One of the perennial complaints at Western is the low funding from the state of Michigan. Western gets much less per student than schools including University of Michigan and Michigan State. Why is that? My research led to a surprising answer: Joe Schwarz. What follows is an article written by former State Senator Dale Shugars, who represented Kalamazoo County from 1994 to 2002. It appeared in the September 11, 2001 Kalamazoo Gazette.
WMU funding needs have fallen on deaf ears
In the too-often divisive world of politics, sometimes a deserving entity does not receive needed support. Western Michigan University is a prime example. The Michigan Higher Education Budget process is steeped in unneeded politics and an incoherent higher education policy. For many years, Western Michigan University has been on the short end of the stick of the state funding process, which results in higher tuition for WMU students and families.
Residents of Southwest Michigan experience the positive impact that the university has on our area every day. With enrollment in the fall semester expected to climb to a record level of over 29,000 students, WMU's success is no secret. Additionally, the university has acted as a dedicated community partner, working together with job providers, neighborhood organizations and political leaders in our region to find new ways to enhance the quality of life.
WMU President Elson Floyd has dedicated a significant amount of time and energy into building strong relations with the state officials in Lansing, yet repeated attempts to improve state support have fallen on deaf ears in Lansing. When measured by per-student funding, Western receives 42 percent less than the other research universities in Michigan. Here is just one example: Wayne State University receives $10,983 per student in state funds while Western Michigan University receives $5,504. Both institutions enroll roughly the same number of students and are similar in scope yet Wayne State University receives twice as much state funding as Western Michigan University.
The House of Representatives in late March passed a version of the Higher Education budget bill giving WMU the highest percentage increase of state universities. Unfortunately, the Senate stripped all of the gains during the House process.
In fact, the Senate subcommittee, chaired by Senator Joe Schwarz of Battle Creek, reduced WMU's recommended increase by nearly half. I am puzzled by the lack of support from my colleague from Battle Creek for a university that has a significant economic and educational presence in his home district. [emphasis mine]
The politics of the higher education budget in Lansing may never go away, and a fair funding mechanism has been elusive for many years. One thing is very clear. WMU has struggled to achieve funding parity, and with one year left as chairman of the Higher Education Senate Subcommittee, Senator Schwarz has one more chance to do the right thing for area families and job providers. It's time for Western Michigan University to receive its fair share.
In other news, I now know how to use a microfilm machine!