Testimony before the Senate Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee
February 20, 2014
Good morning. Thank you, Senators Schuitmaker, Walker and Hood for inviting Eastern to speak today.
Eastern Is Growing!
Eastern is growing despite a declining market of students and families that can afford a college degree. On move-in day in September 2013, we welcomed our largest freshman class in the University's history of 2,872 freshmen and 5,210 new undergraduate students – which includes first-time freshmen, transfer students, and students pursuing a second degree – even though demographic studies show a significantly declining supply of college freshmen in our state.
This is the second consecutive year we welcomed our largest overall class of first-year undergraduates. Our freshman enrollment has grown 43% over the last three years and Eastern is the fastest growing public university in Michigan. We provide a quality education at an affordable price and have not walked away from Michigan citizens who dream of being the first in their family to walk across the stage and earn a college degree.
There are more than 300,000 young people between the ages of 25-34 in southeast Michigan (eight counties including Washtenaw) that have some college but no degree. Eastern can fulfill that dream of a college degree and help achieve the Governor's goal of dramatically increasing the number of Michigan residents with a college degree.
Our enrollment is breaking records because we are attracting the bright and ambitious who want an affordable price, less debt and engaged faculty in small classes. The average GPA for incoming freshmen increased to 3.24, up from 3.18 in 2012 and 3.11 in 2011. Average ACT scores rose last year from 21 to 22.
Eastern's Honors College Program – which accepts students entering with at least a 25 ACT and 3.5 high school GPA – increased in size from Fall 2009 to Fall 2013, from 824 to 1,267 students. Minority enrollment in the Honors College similarly increased in the same time period from 111 to 236 – more than double.
Nearly 90% of our student body comes from Michigan, with incoming freshmen this past fall coming from 79 of our 83 Michigan counties.
On-campus housing is completely full – we have a very safe campus and wonderful programs to enjoy! Eastern's continued growth defies the market; overall growth in college enrollment in Michigan has been relatively stagnant the past few years.
Eastern is not simply enrolling more students; we are graduating them and they stay in Michigan. A record 2,376 students graduated last spring, an increase of more than 27 percent since 2007. We used to graduate approximately 5,000 students each year; now we are graduating approximately 5,500 students per year.
Our budget remains challenged because now student tuition covers approximately 75 percent of every operating dollar we spend. Twenty years ago, nearly 70 percent of our operating expenses were supported by citizens of the State of Michigan to ensure future generations could afford college. These data are the same for Michigan's other public universities.
I applaud the Governor's higher education budget recommendation which I hope you embrace as a first step in the ladder to restore funding to higher education so every child in this great State of Michigan can see the ladder to a degree as I did. I went to a one-room school, took a test, scored high and again thank the citizens of Michigan who paid for my degree. We need to create that ladder of opportunity again for all Michigan citizens.
Investing in 21st Century Careers
This past year, Eastern continued to expand our academic programs that train students for the high-growth jobs demanded by Michigan employers:
- We launched a new graduate program to train physician assistants, which quickly received preliminary accreditation and will begin enrolling students this May. Eastern is partnering with nearby St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, which will operate a simulation lab for our students. Physician assistants make top wages, with a national average salary of $68,000 per year which increases rapidly. The Department of Labor ranks health care professions as the fastest growing in the nation. Our physician assistant program complements our existing nursing programs which operate on campuses around the State, and our College of Health and Human Services is our fastest growing college.
- After health care, the second fastest growing industry is information security, and EMU's Information Assurance (cyber security) program is meeting that demand. Our program trains approximately 550 undergraduate, graduate, and Ph.D. students in computer and network security, and we are a National Security Agency Center of Academic Excellence. Eighty-three percent of our students are employed in the field after graduation, and most of our students have a job offer their junior year with an average starting salary of $52,000. Our program director, Professor James Banfield, testified last month before the Senate Energy & Technology Committee, and Eastern houses the State's first Cyber Range, which is a high-tech facility where public and private entities can test cyber defense systems. Eastern is at the leading edge in Cyber Security.
- Dual enrollment: Our Early College Alliance program enrolls area high school students in college courses on Eastern's campus where they can earn up to 60 college credits – at no cost to the student or their parents. Since 2008, EMU dual enrollment students have enrolled in over 25,000 credit hours with the University providing approximately $3.7 million in scholarship funding to support the program.
- Eastern invested in new learning facilities. We are a historic 164 year-old campus and have tremendous needs – we completed the second phase of our $90 million science complex last year and sorely need a capital outlay appropriation from the State for Strong Hall to finish this complex.
- We received two points in this year's budget for the graduation rate performance metric, reflecting our improvements between 2008 and 2011. We're investing more in student advising services, including increasing staffing and opening the new Francine Parker Advising Center in our Student Center. The Parker Center is modeled after a store like Apple in which roaming advisers rapidly respond to short inquiries and help students navigate through updated online resources for academic and career planning. Eastern recently completed a comprehensive Degree Completion & Retention Plan, implemented a required freshmen advising process, and we are opening a new transfer student advising center to assist transfer students.
- Eastern is expanding our faculty ranks in high-growth areas to ensure that students have access to the best faculty in their fields. Eastern has hired over 150 new faculty in the past five years.
- Eastern was recently recognized by the College Database as one of the top 50 colleges in the country for advancing women in STEM fields. Eastern is launching a new comprehensive, interdisciplinary, University-wide initiative to increase the number of students graduating in STEM programs. Eastern is the State of Michigan affiliate for Project Lead The Way, which trains middle- and high-school teachers to deliver an innovative STEM curriculum in schools throughout the State. General Motors executives recently granted a $300,000 per year donation to support this program to transform education.
Keeping College Affordable
While investing in new programs, technology, and faculty, Eastern remains the statewide leader in keeping college affordable for Michigan students.
Over the last four years, our tuition increased by just 2.84% per year. Over the last five years, our tuition increased by only 3.03%. These are the smallest increases among the State's fifteen public universities. Our students would be paying/borrowing on average $2,800 more a year had we not restrained tuition.
Investing in high quality programs, facilities and people while leading the State in tuition restraint has not been easy. Eastern has met this challenge by relentlessly cutting administrative costs.
- We eliminated 130 administrative positions over the last three years, saving more than $7 million per year in wages and benefits.
- We cut energy costs from ~$11 million+ to ~$7 million per year.
- Eastern recently restructured debt to save ~$250,000 per year.
Eastern received a top score this year in the budget performance metric that measures a university's spending on administrative overhead.
We face a new challenge in the coming years. Eastern's campus is one of the safest in Michigan; the data prove it. Many universities like Eastern are experiencing more crime off-campus. Eastern has decided to do more to protect our students and employees who live nearby, off-campus. Eastern is adding 10 police officers.
The Governor's Proposed FY 2014 Budget
Eastern supports the Governor's proposed higher education budget.
The Governor proposed investing nearly $80 million in new funds for university operations, recognizing that investing in our State's public universities will create more high-paying jobs. It's no secret – and no coincidence – that states with more college graduates have higher income levels and lower unemployment levels. Investing in higher education grows Michigan's economy. This is a first step on a ladder of reinvestment in higher education in this state.
We support the Governor's addition of Pell Grants to the list of performance metrics. Universities like Eastern with a large Pell Grant population require additional resources to assist low-income students to ensure that they fulfill their potential. The Pell Grant metric has broad support, was approved by the Senate in a previous higher education budget, and we urge you to keep it in next year's budget.
Tuition restraint is always challenging and Eastern has proven its ability to limit tuition increases even without a State mandate. Sadly, we were never rewarded or recognized in the state budget for our past heroic tuition restraint of 0% increase.
We applaud the Governor's proposed $2.4 million in assistance to the seven universities – including Eastern – that face MPSERS legacy costs. Eastern faces rising MPSERS pension and retiree health care costs. We urge the legislature to adopt comprehensive reform to give the seven MPSERS universities more control over their MPSERS legacy costs. We urge you to adopt the Governor's proposed $2.4 million appropriation.
An investment in higher education is the future of this great State of Michigan. States with more college graduates have higher personal income and lower unemployment rates. Eastern has consistently proven that we are good stewards of the taxpayers' dollars. Eastern is entirely committed to opportunity and affordability and that is critical to southeast Michigan, the revival of Detroit, and the greater State of Michigan. At Eastern, ordinary people come and get the first degree in their family and then lead extraordinary lives forever changing their family for future generations in Michigan.