Fallon calls for greater sustained investment in higher education
YPSILANTI — Eastern Michigan University President John A. Fallon, III told legislators Wednesday that, “creating jobs in Michigan, keeping talent in Michigan and making Michigan a greater state, will require a sustained investment in its education engine.”
Testifying before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education, Fallon praised the Governor and Senate for proposing modest increases for higher education, but also cautioned House subcommittee members that even with a 2 percent increase, Michigan universities will continue to lose ground.
“In the past two years, while the state increased funding by a mere 1.7 percent, 22 competitive states increased funding for higher education by 10 percent. And of those 22 states, nine increased funding by more than 15 percent,” Fallon said.
“We’ve seen a tremendous shift in the state’s approach to higher education. Less than 20 years ago, the state recognized that an educated populace was beneficial to the state, and so it paid nearly 75 percent of the cost of a student’s education. Now, the philosophical approach has shifted and we have more of a “user-fees approach” to public education. For Eastern Michigan University, that means that the state now pays only about 35 percent and students must bear the additional 65 percent. This causes us great concern, particularly since it impacts access to education,” he said.
Fallon also told legislators that any funding formula must take into account the unique population each of the State’s 15 public universities serve. “Eastern Michigan University is proud of its historical mission of serving diverse populations. When I look out at our graduates at commencement, more than half the students I see started their college experience somewhere else, and most are closer to 30 than they are to 21. While we do serve a core of traditional students who come to EMU right out of high school, more and more of our students are non-traditional,” Fallon said.
“Non-traditional learners represent the new face of higher education. These are students who don’t start and finish their college education in a straight line. They often take less than full academic course load due to work or family obligations, or sometimes stop out for a semester or two, and that means they will not graduate in four or five years. The proposed formulas penalize institutions like EMU that serve these populations,” Fallon said.
Fallon also asked the subcommittee, chaired by Rep. John Stewart (R-20th District), to support funding relief for the seven state institutions who were required to be part of the Michigan Public Service Employees Retirement System (MPSERS) “MPSERS is an unfunded state mandate that is strangling us,” Fallon said. “Our anticipated costs for MPSERS next year are $5.5 million. That’s an amount equal to a 5.5 percent tuition increase.”
“Another challenge we face is to improve the learning environment,” Fallon said. “We are the second-oldest campus in the state, we have two facilities that were built in the 19th century and eight others constructed before World War II.”
“We are absolutely delighted to have the Pray-Harrold project in the budget and urge you to wholeheartedly support the funding proposal,” Fallon said. “Pray-Harrold, if you can imagine it, was built before man walked on the moon. When it opened, it was the largest classroom building in the state. It still serves more than 10,000 users a day. It is in drastic need of renovation and technology improvements.”
Fallon also touted the “research that matters” that is being done at EMU.
“We take a very practical and applied approach to research. Across the University, we’re working with the government, business and industry, the military and education to find and implement ways to improve their people, processes, programs and services. I’m especially proud of the fact that nearly all of our research activities involve students, many of them undergraduates,” Fallon said. “Our undergraduate research symposium just celebrated its 26th year. It is the oldest symposium of its kind in the nation and a model for numerous other programs.”
Fallon told the subcommittee that Eastern Michigan University provides an outstanding return on the state’s investment. “Our economic and social impact is incredible. For every dollar received, we return $30 in economic impact. In terms of social impact, last year alone our students, faculty and staff contributed in excess of 6,000 volunteer hours to community service agencies and projects.”
The House hearings took a different format this year than in years past, a change Fallon said he found very comfortable. “The speaker asked us not to prepare or read from written testimony, but to just talk with the subcommittee about challenges and opportunities. We have so many great stories to tell about the work we are doing at Eastern Michigan University that the most difficult challenge was staying in the 20-minute time frame,” Fallon said.
Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their careers and lives, and to be better citizens.
Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their career and lives, and to be better citizens.
Editor's Note: Looking for an expert source for a story? Check out EMU's Eastern Experts online at www.emich.edu/univcomm/easternexperts.