Education key in Snyder’s plan for economic development

Courtesy Photo /
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder

Courtesy Photo / Michigan Governor Rick Snyder

Samantha Butcher

After a decade of economic woes, newly elected Gov. Rick Snyder is tackling Michigan’s down-and-out economy head-on. In his State of the State address Wednesday, Snyder focused on economic development, introducing the Michigan Dashboard as a tangible way to measure the state’s successes and failures.

“Simply put, Job One is jobs,” Snyder said.

The Dashboard examines 21 areas in five overarching sectors: economic growth, health and education, value for government and public safety. When possible, it indicates Michigan’s position in national rankings.

Snyder, a Republican, was inaugurated Jan. 1 after beating Democratic opponent Virg Bernero with 58 percent of the vote in the Nov. 2 election. A survey released earlier this month by Michigan State University reported that 57 percent of the population have a favorable opinion of Snyder, while 66 percent believe Snyder can fix Michigan’s problems.

Snyder said the economy is his top priority, but other issues on his agenda include education, health and wellness and public employee compensation.

“There are no quick fixes or magic solutions. We have a governance sector with an unsustainable financial model,” he said. “We have far too many people who are not leaving school with the education they need to succeed in the future.”

The Snyder administration’s plans for education reform to tie closely with his economic goals. He plans to push for reform in the first six months of the year and has met with university presidents and district superintendents to chart a course of action.

During meetings, Snyder warned Michigan’s 15 public universities that short-term sacrifices, including budget cuts, will be necessary to get Michigan back on track. A two-year budget will be released in mid-February, a month earlier than required. The second year of the budget will act as a guideline for the government going forward.

“We will not play kick the can the can down the road into the next year,” Snyder said.

The new budget will likely feature cuts across the board.

“Governor Snyder has been very consistent in that he expects that the budget will be very difficult for every agency of government,” said Matt McLogan, vice president for University Relations at GVSU. “To the extent that that will impact our campus, we don’t yet know.”

Budget cuts could spell trouble for GVSU, which has the lowest state appropriations of any public university in Michigan. GVSU receives $3,473 per resident undergraduate Full Year Equated Student (FYES). The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, which has the highest appropriations, receives more than $15,000 per FYES.

Snyder said increasing funding for higher education will eventually be necessary.

The 2010-2011 academic year saw a 5.3-percent tuition raise and a number of employee sacrifices with faculty and staff shouldering a larger percentage of their health care costs and taking a voluntary pay freeze.

GVSU President Thomas J. Haas said raising graduation rates and keeping enrollment stable will be the key to maintaining an affordable tuition rate. Earlier this year, he introduced the Grand Finish, a $1,000 scholarship for students who complete 90 credits by the end of their junior year. GVSU is currently ranked No. 3 in statewide four-year graduation rates and fourth in six-year graduation rates, but Haas said he wants to improve those rankings.

“When we do this and help our students move through the system, that provides us capacity then to bring in other students then and keep our enrollment levels very stable, and that will translate into more efficiencies and hopefully through the years we can use that to dampen more increases in tuition that might be evident with state appropriations continuing to decrease,” Haas said in August.

Snyder encouraged the universities to turn out higher numbers of qualified graduates in fields where Michigan has job openings. According to the Office of Institutional Analysis, almost 90 percent of GVSU graduates stay in the state after graduation.

GVSU has doubled the number of degrees awarded over a decade, McLogan said. The university’s presence has a $750 million economic impact in West Michigan and has generated about 10,000 private sector jobs.

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