The Associated Press May 8, 2012, 10:09AM ET

Seminar looks at ways to promote higher education

Michigan needs to invest more in higher education to better compete with states like North Carolina, where a four-year education costs $20,000 less, the head of Domino's Pizza said Monday.

"In Michigan this fiscal year, we will dedicate 76 percent more general fund dollars to our prisons than we will to our public universities," Domino's President and CEO J. Patrick Doyle told a Business Leaders for Michigan summit on higher education at the Lansing Center. "In North Carolina, they will spend almost twice as much on universities as they will on prisons."

Doyle said the two states are similar in population, personal income, joblessness, the size of their state budgets and the number of people they have in prison or college. But while Michigan spends $1.1 billion annually on higher education, North Carolina spends $2.5 billion.

According to the State Higher Education Executive Officers, Michigan had the third-highest decline in state support for higher education between 2005 and 2010. In the current budget year, university funding was slashed by 15 percent. That pushed up Michigan colleges' tuition and fees, resulting in an average cost of $38,215 for a four-year degree versus $18,877 in North Carolina, Doyle said. As a result, fewer Michigan residents get degrees.

"Our state cannot afford to continue to continue its recent trend of declining investment in the talent pool of tomorrow," Doyle said. "Michigan faces a very real shortage (by 2025) of nearly 1 million workers with a two-year degree or better, so we need to think about educating and developing our workforce."

Grand Valley State University President Thomas Haas said his university is getting $2,365 per student in state funding this year, while the University of North Carolina system gets $11,000 per student. He supports asking universities to be accountable for making sure students are getting a good value, and said his Allendale-based university has cut the cost for obtaining a degree by 14 percent.

But declining state funds also have forced Grand Valley State to raise tuition.

"I have enough money from state appropriations to take care of debt retirement and financial aid. Everything else is on tuition dollars," Haas said.

Asked if the tuition increase has left some students unable to afford college, he replied: "Absolutely."

Haas said he'd reduce tuition at his school if the state increased its support and he could count on the funding remaining stable.

Most of Michigan's 15 public universities expect to see an increase in state funding of around 1.5 percent to 3 percent in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, but still will be able to count on state payments for only about a third of their operating budgets, compared to close to 80 percent in the 1960s.

Doyle said he'd like to see universities increase research and development efforts and partner with businesses more often. He'd also like to see Michigan follow North Dakota's example. It increased revenue by attracting more out-of-state students who pay higher tuition without decreasing access for in-state students.

But, he said, the main goal must be to better support universities with state dollars.

"The decline in state support for our public universities over the last decade has shifted the cost of earning a college degree from the state to students and their families," he said. "To help make college more affordable for hundreds of thousands of Michigan young people, we need a long-term commitment from the state to make higher education a ... priority."

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