Forum Outlines NMU Action Steps
At Wednesday’s campus forum, NMU President Les Wong outlined action steps the university will take to offset 2006 legislative challenges associated with diminished state support and formula funding – both of which he described as “imminent.”
House Republicans on the higher subcommittee this year had proposed a Workforce Investment Needs (WIN) formula that would be based on enrollment and research productivity, as well as academic offerings and degree-completion rates. It is scheduled to be implemented in the next fiscal year.
“Despite the fact some universities have expressed dissatisfaction with certain elements of the formula, the WIN plan will serve as the starting point for a discussion of how state lawmakers can disperse $1.14 billion in higher education appropriations in a way that closes the gap in fiscal year equated student (FYES) funding,” Wong said.
Northern receives $5,424 per FYES, which is quite different from downstate campuses that receive $3,000 per FYES. But based on the formula, a dental hygiene program would be compensated at four times the rate of a teacher education program.
“The obvious question is, ‘Are dental hygienists worth four times more than K-12 teachers?’ The formula is replete with those kinds of examples,” Wong said. “Our job is to critique WIN since it does not address the unique situation of NMU in the U.P. We need to come up with a model that fits NMU – a rural, comprehensive master’s I university. The goal should be a fair formula that preserves the autonomy and uniqueness of each campus. We will be sharing our ideas with legislators in the coming months.”
The action steps Wong listed that will help Northern enhance its self-sufficiency are as follows: develop more entrepreneurial programming that offers revenue-generating potential through such avenues as corporate partnerships; increase research capacity through an accelerated, campus-wide effort to secure outside grants; contain costs and tuition increases; and boost off-campus enrollment.
“We are near the functional capacity of our campus so I’ve indicated that 1,000 more off-campus students are needed, but it might be closer to 500 or it might be 1,500,” Wong added. “I would love to see an NMU-Green Bay, or NMU-Beijing, or NMU-Chihauhua. We need to figure out a way to grow our off-campus enrollment. It’s either that, or an unpopular option arises: we could let tuition rise to meet the market demands. If we want to keep tuition down and keep costs down, growth is the only other option to balance our budget and fund necessary initiatives.”
Other challenges Wong discussed included unfunded state and federal mandates, a recently introduced federal bill that would punish institutions for “unfounded” tuition increases, and the possibility that federal financial aid might be depleted to help cover the costs of war. He said formula funding proposals in which degree-completion rates factor heavily will test Northern’s resistance to increasing admission standards.
Also at the forum, Wong said natural gas costs are expected to increase by $1.5 million – to $4.5 million – in 2005-06. NMU is investigating co-generation, which would involve an addition to the power plant to facilitate burning a variety of fuels including woodchips, coal, natural gas and fuel oil.
Fred Joyal announced the early stages of a new research partnership being established between NMU and Marquette General Hospital that builds on existing collaborations between the two entities. More details will be covered in a future issue of Campus.