Forum Addresses Budget   


At a standing-room only forum at the University Center yesterday, President Les Wong showed how Northern would be impacted by House and Senate formula funding models relative to the governor's budget proposal, emphatically dispelled "any myths that the university has benefited disproportionately from the Jacobetti legend," and urged employees to join a grassroots effort to contact legislators on behalf of the university.


A chart tracking cumulative higher education appropriation increases from 1977 – the first year HEIDI data became available – to 2005 showed NMU fifth from the bottom at about 204 percent. That falls below the state average of 216 percent and the Consumer Price Index (CPI) of 212 percent. Saginaw Valley had an increase of roughly 458 percent over this same period and Grand Valley about 486 percent.


A chart showing the percent of increase in appropriation per Fiscal Year Equated Student (FYES) tells a different story, with NMU fifth from the top – a position Wong referred to as "above average, but certainly not at the high end of things." Enrollment figures reflect double-digit growth at most universities over the past eight years, resulting in 42,332 more students than the Michigan 15 reported in 1977. But while FYES and CPI both increased about 20 percent, Wong pointed out that state appropriation increases lagged behind at 11 percent.


"The state refused to fund the enrollment growth adequately," he added. "This is the data we've been showing for more than a month to legislators in Lansing – some more than once. It clearly shows they're relying more on myth than fact. That's why we're putting a lot of pressure on people, because there's no rationale for what they have proposed. A formula in whatever shape or form doesn’t work if all you're doing is remixing an under-funded pot. These facts do not back up the so-called Jacobetti factor, which I've heard about since becoming president.


"Now I understand there are two big buildings he arranged for Northern to have (the Superior Dome and Jacobetti Center ). I have offered facetiously to give them back to the state on more than one occasion. But when it comes to appropriations, the facts clearly don't support the Jacobetti myth. It is imperative that not a single employee believe we've experienced favoritism based on his past work."


The formula advanced by House Republicans would cut Northern's funding by 31 percent over six years. FYES support for non-resident students would be 25 percent less than that for resident students, which Wong said would hurt NMU because it is proportionately the second-highest, non-resident enrollment campus in Michigan.


The Senate formula would result in a one-year 10 percent cut for NMU on top of the governor's proposed 1.9 percent decrease. Most of the impact would stem from a provision to adjust the "funding floor" to $3,570 per FYES, which would benefit many schools but hurt NMU.


"Here's the political issue," Wong began. "We receive $5,311 per FYES and many of the other universities are significantly below that. Saginaw Valley and Grand Valley, who've grown dramatically, are in the low $3,000 level for FYES funding. Theoretically, we are a 'have,' not one of the 'have nots.' The intent of the legislature is to close the gap. We can argue it costs more to recruit and retain our students, and the team has been working hard to explain why that FYES funding for Northern is justified. But the issue again is the under-funded pot. I say to legislators, 'Is it possible NMU is the only school you've funded appropriately?'"


Wong said if legislators are sold on formulaic funding, they would be wise to do universities no harm this year and spend the time developing an appropriate model – one that won't provide incentives for schools to shift their curricula or abandon their distinct missions, resulting in a "cookie cutter" approach to higher education.


Because the state funding situation will most likely be resolved in late summer or early fall, Wong said the administration is planning around three potential scenarios of varying budget shortfalls and tuition increases. Because his frequent trips downstate in recent weeks has limited his time on campus, he has enlisted the President's Council to begin discussions of potential cost-saving measures.


Meanwhile, Wong said employees can help by contacting U.P. legislators, urging them not to allow Northern to take a disproportionate cut. He said the university has recruited friends and alumni from across the state to join the grassroots effort.


"Despite the challenges we face, it is important to keep in mind that great things are happening at Northern, and they will continue to happen. Many parents and students will be on campus for orientation this summer. They need to hear that we remain committed to our number one job, which is providing quality programming."


The House and Senate versions will next go to conference, where they will be rectified into a single bill that will be sent to Gov. Jennifer Granholm.


PowerPoint materials from Monday's forum are available at Campus Budget Forum.


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Updated: October 26, 2005

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