GV leaders set sights on Lansing for additional funding

Courtesy / GVnow

Courtesy / GVnow

James Kilborn

With a new congress sworn in this past January, members from Grand Valley State University will travel to Lansing to make a case for receiving additional state funding. GVSU President Thomas Haas and Student Senate President Rachel Jenkin plan to testify before the Michigan House of Representatives’ Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee on Thursday, Feb. 14. 

Funding for state institutions is contingent on a number of factors, such as graduation rates, research and development expenditures, undergraduate degrees in certain fields and percentage of students receiving Pell Grants. Vice President for University Relations Matt McLogan states that while GVSU is often at the top of these ratings, the amount of state funding is often non-proportional. 

“For the past seven years, the Snyder administration used a process by which selected performance data — such as retention, graduation rates and administrative efficiency — play a small part in the process, and Grand Valley has ranked first or second in each of those enactments,” McLogan said. “Unfortunately, the high-performance ranking hasn’t come with much new money. We don’t know yet if Governor (Gretchen) Whitmer will retain or change that model.”

McLogan states that the governor’s upcoming budget proposal will outline her plans for higher education appropriations. With the governorship being held by Whitmer, a democrat, and state legislature retaining a slight republican majority, a decision will have to reach a bipartisan consensus. 

“The governor’s budget proposal will be released in March and then the House of Representatives and State Senate will conduct legislative hearings,” McLogan said. “Budget bills will emerge, be debated and voted upon by lawmakers, and sent to the governor for her signature — or if she and lawmakers are in disagreement, veto.”

Advocates for additional state funding at GVSU cite the university’s high performance rankings and growing presence around west Michigan. With the Grand Rapids region growing faster than other parts of the state, representation in Lansing may grow as well, as reapportionment in 2020 may grant the region an additional senate or representative seat. 

“It will be up to the new Reapportionment Commission to determine which districts stay intact and which ones go,” McLogan said. “As for state house and senate seats, it is possible that west Michigan could pick up one or more members in each chamber, but it’s too soon to know that just yet. The new Reapportionment Commission will draw those lines, too.”

Increasing west Michigan representation in state government illustrates the importance the region has within the state, and as west Michigan’s largest university, GVSU plays a crucial role in investing additional institutions within the greater Grand Rapids area. 

With a Fall 2018 enrollment of 24,677 students, GVSU is the fourth-largest university in Michigan, yet receives less state funding than Eastern Michigan University, which had a fall enrollment of 18,838 students. Although additional factors influence higher education appropriations, GVSU received $70.1 million for 2017-2018 compared to Michigan State University’s $281.2 million and University of Michigan’s $314.6 million. 

McLogan stated that while many legislators have attended these universities, it’s not apparent whether attendance has influenced the appropriation of higher education funds. He emphasized familiarity with the state’s institutions being an asset however, citing former Lieutenant Governor and GVSU-graduate Brian Calley as an example. 

“(Lawmaker attendance) is certainly helpful in legislative discussions to have representatives and senators who are familiar with the state’s universities,” McLogan said. “Mr. Calley, who attended Michigan State University, Grand Valley State University and Harvard was certainly conversant with the state’s universities. I think it is beneficial to the state of Michigan when supporters of higher education are elected to public office.”

Haas and Jenkin will soon travel to Lansing to request for additional state funding for GVSU. There, they will represent both the fourth-largest university in Michigan as well as the higher education institution tied to the Grand Rapids region, educating and empowering future doctors, nurses, engineers and educators that will contribute to west Michigan’s vibrant workforce.