As we embark on a new year at EMU and have many of our strategic planning and mission deliberations behind us, I want to focus on how our students, faculty and staff are advantaged by new services this winter; on recognitions of our excellence and personal accomplishments; and on our efforts to secure our future through public and private support.
New services, systems and facilities development are high priorities at EMU and they benefit all members of the University community. The University is responding to student concerns about academic advising. Through initiatives currently being implemented, we will nearly double our capacity to deliver professional academic advising to our students. Planning for the new Transfer Center in Pierce Hall also is underway. Renovations of the space are beginning and staff positions are being transferred and posted to provide one-stop service for prospective transfer students, ensuring quick access to all information needed to enroll at EMU. Our prospective students also are engaged electronically. Through the new GoalQuest targeted communication system, 3,000 high school students and other applicants are receiving regular electronic messages from EMU to help gauge their interest and encourage them to enroll. We are the first university in Michigan to use this targeted e-mail approach to admissions.
Our staff and faculty have new opportunities this semester to sharpen their skills, improve their benefits and participate in a streamlined employment process. EMU faculty and staff who serve in administrative positions are eligible to participate in an exciting new program that is part of our Human Resources transformation project&emdash;Leadership EMU. In February, and again in March, we will begin a professional development program for a cohort of academic professionals aimed at improving management skills and nurturing emerging talent at the University. Two groups of 30 participants will attend sessions one day per week for ten weeks as part of this new program.
Those throughout the campus involved in the hiring process also will be pleased to learn that we are implementing newly redesigned employment practices that are more efficient and decentralized, moving from over 100 steps with 24 approvals and 19 forms to a greatly simplified process.
We also are excited about the migration of almost 700 employees to the improved Community Blue PPO health care plan which allows us to reduce cost growth and develop wellness initiatives in addition to improving coverage for our staff. The agreements that have been approved by union members and considered by the Board today reflect the work of our collaborative Health Care Task Force. We remain concerned that not all employees are covered by this improved plan and that the changing health care landscape and reduced State support will make it much more difficult to provide this benefit for others in the future.
Facility projects that are not dependent upon State support are progressing rapidly. Proposals are due by the end of the month from firms interested in defining the program for the expansion of McKenny Union. Survey work for the parking expansion projects approved at the last Board meeting are underway, and we are nearing completion of our program statement for the modernization of Pray-Harrold, which we have asked the State to support. Dining Services has opened "Freshens" in the Union, which offers a dining menu that includes healthy food options, and the new College of Business computer lab and interactive classrooms, funded in part by a gift from Ford, have opened for students in classes at the start of the semester.
A new year is a time to celebrate institutional and individual accomplishments. The excellence of our people, programs and alumni is being recognized by diverse peers and organizations around the nation. EMU's Office of Financial Aid has recently been honored by being designated as part of the Department of Education's Quality Assurance Program. This is an honor that is afforded to only 5 percent of all US colleges and universities. It recognizes us for an outstanding audit record, financial procedures and efficiencies, and it rewards us by providing greater flexibility in administering federal aid programs and relaxing burdensome oversight regulations. It is an excellent example of our commitment to continuous improvement in a very demanding service area.
In addition to Board recognitions today for outstanding student achievements exemplified by our cross-country championships, our former students are being recognized in a variety of ways. I just returned from the annual meeting of the NCAA where the Association gave its prized Silver Anniversary Award for lifetime career achievement to alumnus Rodney Slater, an EMU Athletic Hall of Fame member and former US Secretary of Transportation. Steven Koponen, a 1993 graduate, has been named a recipient of the prestigious Milken Family Foundation "National Educator Award," the twenty-second EMU graduate to earn this distinction. Also, at least 11 schools headed by EMU alumni received this year's Golden Apple Award for heightened success on state achievement tests.
Members of the EMU faculty are consistently being recognized by their peers for excellence in teaching, research and creative activities. Bernie O'Connor, in the Political Science Department, was recently named 2001 Michigan Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education; Tom Fleming, Special Assistant to the Provost, was one of 16 persons appointed to President Bush's Commission on Excellence in Special Education; and Rebecca Martusewicz's recent book, Seeking Passage: Post-Structuralism, Pedagogy, Ethics, received the Critic's Award of the American Educational Studies Association.
We are doing well in our grant and contract activity and in private resource development. As we closed out the 2001 calendar year, there were 33 more grant proposals over the prior year, 39 more awards were received and the dollar value of grants increased over $1 million. Examples include $330,000 for the Law Enforcement, Fire and Emergency Management Technology program to provide training in forensics, cyber crime and management, and $75,000 from SBC-Ameritech to support Ellen Hoffman's "New Teacher Resource Network," which brings together expertise in technology and education to improve the quality of teaching as new teachers begin their careers.
As private support becomes increasingly important for achieving excellence, we recently celebrated one of the most significant gifts EMU has ever received&emdash;initial funding and a commitment of $1 million from Ernest and Jeanne Merlanti to fund a program in business ethics, the capstone of which is a senior seminar. This gift will have a broad impact on our students, faculty, programs and future business leaders.
Resource development issues obviously are important and continue to attract our attention. Our largest donor is still the State of Michigan and its slipping economy is impacting us in major ways. The good news is that enrollment this winter is up over last winter by 2 percent, an increasingly important factor as State support diminishes, and the State has spared us from the mid-year budget cuts that have been applied to State agencies. The bad news is that State revenues are down over $1 billion and many believe we would be fortunate to receive a level or slightly increased appropriation next fiscal year. We are working hard on these challenges through meetings with legislators and the governor, and we are growing in our innovative Alumni Legislative Connection, with a kick-off for this year's initiative later this month.
Michigan public universities have an excellent story to tell and in the face of considerable political discussion about tuition increases we must, once again, sustain our ability to shape revenue streams if we are to survive a serious threat to institutional quality. A decade ago Michigan was behind 31 other states in funding per full-time students and ranked thirty-fifth in the percent of tax revenue dedicated to public higher education. This was a result of a general decline in State support over a 20-year period and the tough fiscal pressures the State was facing. Through sound policy decisions, Michigan is now among the top third in key funding indicators. We must all work hard to keep Michigan from slipping in this ranking, just as we also engage in cost savings and cost avoidance, which amounted to over $10 million in our universities last year.
We know that the ability to restrain tuition is directly linked to appropriation increases. When appropriations have gone down, tuition has gone up. This has preserved quality and actually increased access. State enrollments have increased the past seven years and we have used institutional resources to provide scholarships. Michigan universities disperse more direct student financial aid than any other state except New York and California. Indeed, Michigan public universities allocate over $240 million of general fund revenues per year for student financial aid.
Although Michigan's economy is more diverse than in the past, it is still heavily subjected to cyclical forces. Our universities need the flexibility to adapt to the down cycles through enhanced revenue from other sources. If the State had not permitted this flexibility in prior stressful years, Michigan would have lost its reputation for quality. This will be an interesting spring in Lansing, and we will be there.
As we look ahead here in Ypsilanti, several significant events come to mind and I hope they are on your calendars. On January 21, EMU celebrates Martin Luther King Day with a full array of activities including workshops, presentations, the President's Luncheon now in the Convocation Center, and an address by Lani Guinier. On January 23, we will formally dedicate the new Psychology Clinic at 611 West Cross Street and have an open house beginning at 3:30 p.m., including a program at 4:00 p.m. Finally, as a first sign of spring, we are getting ready for Mardi Gras by celebrating one of our own and raising funds for WEMU on the evening of February 8, in the Convocation Center.
As this report suggests, many have been hard at work since the November Board meeting and our spirits have been replenished by the holiday break. We look forward to a spirited new year.