Testimony of James Smith, President

March 18, 2021

Introductory comments

Chair Huizenga (“High-Zing-ga”) and members of the subcommittee. Thank you for inviting Eastern Michigan University to speak today as you consider the fiscal year 2022 budget. I would like to begin by sharing a few key data and highlights about our great university.

What is EMU?

  • EMU is Michigan’s second-oldest public university, founded in 1849.
  • We are home to more than 16,000 students.
  • But what sets us apart? You hear from a lot of public universities – what makes Eastern different?
  • Nearly 90 percent of EMU students are from Michigan.
  • And many of those 90 percent live in your districts!
  • In each of your packets you will find, among other items, the number of EMU students who live in your respective districts!
  • Eastern is also unique in that so many of our graduates – nearly 80 percent – stay in Michigan after they graduate.
  • Eastern students are not your traditional college students.
  • We are an institution of opportunity – our mission is to serve students who might not otherwise have the chance to attend college.
  • Just last month, G.I. Jobs magazine published their annual ranking of Military Friendly Schools.
  • EMU ranked the #2 in the nation – and #1 in Michigan – as a military and veteran friendly large public university.
  • Over one-third of our students receive Pell Grants, meaning they are lower income students.
  • The majority of our students work while they are in college.
  • Nearly 25% of EMU students are first-generation students.
  • We partner closely with community colleges … and have nearly 170 community college articulation agreements -- more than any other university in Michigan.
  • These agreements are roadmaps that tell students, in advance, which courses at a community college will satisfy some of the requirements of specific majors or programs at EMU.
  • We were the first university to partner with community colleges to offer financial support to students who complete the state’s new Frontliners program and wish to earn a four-year degree.
    • We now have seven such partnerships – likely more to come!
  • Simply put, our students worked hard to get where they are, and they continue to work hard when they enter the workplace.
  • To help meet the needs of Michigan employers, we prepare students for the jobs of today and tomorrow – by blending high-quality academic programs with real-world experience.
  • We offer highly-acclaimed undergrad and graduate programs in cyber security.
  • We recently added new programs in mechanical engineering … and computer and electrical engineering.
  • We offer numerous programs in high-growth health care fields, including nursing … physician assistant … and prosthetics & orthotics.
  • Our master’s program in clinical research administration is ranked #3 in the nation and #1 in Michigan.
    • These students receive top-notch training to oversee clinical drug trials – a timely topic as Operation Warp Speed brings new COVID-19 vaccines to the market in record time.
  • Our graduate program in entrepreneurship is highly ranked by Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine.
  • Our online degree in integrated marketing communications … is consistently ranked among the nation’s best.
  • EMU’s heritage is as a teacher’s college – we are world-renowned for our programs preparing teachers, school counselors, and superintendents.
  • That’s why school districts throughout Michigan are filled with EMU graduates teaching our children.
  • That’s who we are and that’s what makes us special: EMU is a Michigan university … serving Michigan students … to prepare them for fulfilling careers in Michigan. 

FY22 Budget

With this background information, I will briefly provide a few key financial data regarding the impact of COVID-19.

  • The nationwide impact on higher education from COVID-19 has been catastrophic.
  • At EMU, we have seen over $67 million in lost revenues from tuition, housing, dining, and other services.
  • We’ve already incurred over $6 million in COVID-related expenses, and that number continues to climb.
  • The offset to these losses from federal funds are, to date, over $24 million.
  • This helps but, even if we include estimates from the next round of federal funding, the losses exceed the federal support.
  • And we are not a bloated operation.
  • We have spent the last several years making the difficult -- but needed -- decisions to increase efficiency and reduce costs.
  • For these reasons, we thank the Governor for proposing additional funds for higher education in the fiscal year 2022 budget.
  • We were, however, disappointed that these would be one-time payments.
  • One-time payments, while better than nothing, do not provide the ability to plan our finances beyond one year -- thereby providing uncertainty for our students and parents.
  • We therefore urge the legislature to maintain the Governor’s proposed funding increase, but to make those dollars an increase to our base appropriation rather than a one-time payment.
  • We also join our colleagues across the state in urging the State to end the mandated price-fixing system that is known as tuition restraint.
  • Universities operate in a hyper-competitive marketplace.
  • We are just like any other marketplace – we already know that if we raise our prices too much or too fast, our students will look elsewhere to earn their degree.


  • I encourage us, as a state, to recognize that investing in higher education is the best and most cost-effective way to drive long-term economic growth.
  • The fastest growing jobs generally require a college degree in fields such as health care, technology, and finance, just to name a few.
  • College graduates earn more money … they have lower unemployment rates … and they are more likely to own a home.
  • Unfortunately, here in Michigan, we continue to spend less on higher education than we did 20 years ago – and that is before adjusting for inflation.
  • In just two decades, Michigan has dropped from #20 in the nation to #44 in the nation in per-capita investment in higher education.
  • I know you face difficult choices in an uncertain economic environment.
  • But the data are clear: investing in higher education pays off – now and tomorrow.

Thank you again for this opportunity. You have a challenging job, and I am grateful for your service and you giving us the time today. With the Chair’s permission, I am happy to take questions.

James M. Smith, Ph.D.

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