Chancellor's Office

Daniel Little, Chancellor

Testimony before the Michigan House of Representatives subcommittee on higher education appropriations, March 9, 2009


Next fall, when the State of Michigan implements its 2009-10 budget, the University of Michigan-Dearborn will launch the celebration of its 50th anniversary.

Our 50-year journey began in a period of unprecedented challenges for our nation and our state: the civil rights movement, the dawning of the nuclear age, the recovery from war and the emergence of global economies, especially in Europe and Asia.

UM-Dearborn, like our "cousins" founded in the same era—Oakland University, UM-Flint, Saginaw Valley, Lake Superior State and Grand Valley—were all founded to help our state and our regions realize the promise of a new generation, the baby boomers.

As the UM-Dearborn’s fifth chancellor, now entering my 10th year of service, I am happy to report to you that our school remains true to its founding mission of serving our metropolitan region and its people. We have held steadfast to that mission despite the onslaught of continued economic, environmental and social challenges facing our state and nation. We take a great deal of pride in our accomplishments over the past half century. And I remain optimistic that together with our community and our university, and with your help, will have the resolve and the capacity to engineer and support a prosperous future for generations to come.

UM-Dearborn began as a two-year, upper-division undergraduate university focusing exclusively on professional training in engineering and management, the result of a generous gift of land and funding from the Ford Motor Company. In those days co-op and internship experiences were an integral part of our academic program, and our primary source of students was the local community colleges. These students were bright and disciplined men and women of modest means who were tied, in important ways, to their families, jobs and communities in southeastern Michigan. They were seeking professional advancement at a convenient location and at an affordable price. But they also wanted and prepared themselves for the challenge of a rigorous and demanding curriculum commensurate with the high standards of the

University of Michigan. We fit the bill for those students then and this population represents the bedrock of our enrollment today.

In the ensuing years we have expanded our reach to include freshmen and sophomores, and a wide range of graduate and professional programs. We have broadened our curriculum to include a School of Education and a College of Arts, Sciences and Letters. And we have grown in many other ways. Today we enroll approximately 8,600 students, 6,800 undergraduate and 1,800 graduate students, in nearly 100 different majors and disciplines. In every case, over all of these years, our growth has been in direct response to the needs of our students, and the employers and industries in our region.

One thing has never changed about UM-Dearborn: That is our commitment to quality and academic rigor, both on the part of our faculty and our students. Neither, I might add, have we waivered in our commitment to access and affordability. We remain one of the best values in higher education anywhere today. And experiential education remains a vital part of the education we offer our students.

In just the last few months, and in a clear manifestation of our mission of service to the metropolitan region, we have launched doctoral-degree programs in engineering, education and computer science. We will be enrolling students in these programs this fall. And we will continue to engage and serve our nearly 40,000 alumni, more than 80 percent of whom continue to live and work in southeastern Michigan.

UM-Dearborn is a metropolitan university. This is a term widely recognized within academic circles that describes an institution that focuses its resources on advancing the region in which it is located. In our case, the region is southeastern Michigan. Of course, we cannot be all things to all people nor can we address every community and regional need. But over the past decade, we have become a model partner for progress in the areas of race relations; manufacturing technology; early childhood, math education and special education; entrepreneurship; and environmental sustainability.

I would like to highlight just a few examples in each of these areas to give you a flavor of what we are about.

Southeastern Michigan has, throughout the 20th century, been a land of opportunity for diverse cultures from throughout the world. Immigrants from Europe, Asia, the Near East, Middle East, Far East, Mexico and South America and migrants from the American South all came to Detroit. Lured by the prospects for a better life for themselves and their families, they not only prospered but built the “arsenal of democracy” and the American middle class. But this progress has come at a price and continues to carry much social and political baggage. This is a fact central to the history and current condition of this region and one in which we continually strive to make a positive difference.

Our student body is as diverse as the communities we serve. Current enrollment includes 9.4 percent African American, 5.8 percent Asian, and 2.8 percent Hispanic students. While we don’t collect the data in quite the same way as we do other groups, we estimate that our student body is approximately 10 to 15 percent Middle Eastern. We are divided evenly by gender and the mean age of our undergraduate population is 24.7 years.

In this struggling economy, UM-Dearborn is perfectly suited to accommodate the rich variety of men and women who must return to school, mostly part-time, without abandoning their families, and re-engineer themselves for an evolving economy and workplace.

Another characteristic of our campus and our distinctive mission is measured in our capacity to accommodate non-traditional students. Our SOAR program in the College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters was founded in 2000 to meet the needs of adults who have been referred by social service agencies, including shelters for victims of domestic violence. We encourage these students to earn a four-year degree by providing scholarships, mentoring, and academic and personal support. Currently we have 70 students enrolled in that program, 19 have graduated, and another eight are due to graduate this year.

Through the voluntary commitment of our faculty and their willingness to engage with some of the most difficult issues in our region, we have been offering college-level classes at correctional facilities in southeastern Michigan. These programs have offered hope, fellowship and the promise of opportunity to the inmates once they are released from prison. In fact, we have enrolled three former inmates from the Scott Correctional Facility, and one of them recently graduated.

One of the central features of UM-Dearborn is that we have one of the state’s largest proportions of our student body enrolled in engineering. We are one of only a handful of universities in the country offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees in manufacturing engineering. We remain one of the largest suppliers of engineering talent to our region’s dominant industries. And our alumni continue to play a vital role in the efforts to weather the economic tsunami afflicting our state.

Despite the current bad news, the automobile industry is not dead. We expect the automotive industry to weather this crisis and to continue to play a key role in defining the knowledge economy in Michigan. On the global scale, automotive consumption is forecast to increase for decades to come. And many of those vehicles will be designed and engineered in southeastern Michigan. The need for engineers will only grow as the industry develops and advances technologies for safer, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

In fact, this may be the best of times to be in the field of automotive engineering research. We still have the technological know-how and a work force committed to getting the job done, and it is clear that the only survivors will be the leaders and firms able to lead the reinvention of the auto industry through new technology.

This region will continue to have one of the highest concentrations of engineers in the nation. And UM-Dearborn will continue to be a significant force in the industrial recovery of our region in the future.

Similarly, our doctoral programs in information systems were developed in response to industry demand for engineers who are adept at advanced Web technologies including multimedia and graphics; new interface technologies; telematics; and global manufacturing logistics.

Our engineering Ph.D. programs will be unique in the state of Michigan, and will not only benefit our students, but also will benefit Michigan industry by providing it with the workforce needed to maintain a strong technological base.

We are at the cutting edge in the field of “additive manufacturing,” having received more than $10 million in research and development support from government and private sources in the past several years. Our faculty members are conducting significant research and teaching in the fields of battery and plug-in technology, alternative fuels, power generation, and data mining. With increasing globalization, students graduating with a Ph.D. in information systems engineering or automotive systems engineering will have outstanding opportunities.

Our College of Business remains one of our region’s most prolific producers of graduates, both at the undergraduate and master’s degree levels, in accounting and finance. Recently, we have made great inroads into teaching and research in the field of entrepreneurism. Our campus’s Innovation Research Center, or “iLabs,” now supports a valuable research service for local governments and businesses. Among many other important projects, iLabs recently completed a study for the Detroit Water and Sewer Department showing that the quality of drinking water is the single most important issue facing our region today and likely into the future.

Here is just one example of the kind of focused, practical and constructive research conducted by our faculty. Local governments are struggling to remain solvent and one factor that everyone agrees upon is the need to collaborate better on issues of regional importance. The “entrepreneurial index” developed by iLabs is a very useful tool to help cities and townships identify the strategies used by the municipalities that are top performers at attracting and retaining entrepreneurial firms.

Another example: our School of Education, through an innovative collaboration with Oakwood Healthcare, supports one of the few programs in the country that prepares pre-school teachers in special education. We have recently moved into a state-of-the-art facility—formerly the home of a UAW-Ford children’s program—that has allowed our Early Childhood Education Center to double the number of students and families it can serve. We share that space with Oakwood's renowned Center for Exceptional Families, a multidisciplinary medical service for families with severely handicapped children. Not only do we share the space with them, but it has allowed us to engage in a collaboration that will enhance our teacher preparation programs and the services Oakwood can provide the children who are their patients.

Just last month, the U-M Regents approved a new doctoral program in our School of Education designed to help address the need for more highly skilled leaders in the schools and colleges in the metropolitan region. The need for a program of this kind is great—it has already attracted more than two dozen applicants for Fall 2009—and its development on our campus is an excellent fit with UM-Dearborn’s metropolitan mission.

UM-Dearborn also has been the acknowledged leader in promoting and facilitating environmentally sustainable growth in our region.

Our nationally recognized Rouge River Gateway Partnership has promoted a vision for sustainable historic preservation, environmental restoration, recreation and economic development. To date the Gateway master plan has accounted for more than $8 billion of public/private investment, generated more than 10,000 jobs and energized a new generation of environmentally conscious citizens, government and corporate leaders.

Now I would like to give you a brief overview of our university’s current financial circumstances.

We have three primary revenue sources: state aid, tuition, and grants, gifts and other forms of philanthropy, with state aid and tuition being by far the largest pieces of the puzzle.

We have all seen the pie charts showing the decline in state support as a fraction of total university costs over the decades, going back to the 1970s. But just in the past five years, the state’s appropriation to UM-Dearborn has declined from 36 percent of our general fund revenues to less than 26 percent today. (See attached chart.)

Meanwhile, our tuition increases have been among the lowest in the state over the past five years, and we are now in the middle of the pack of tuition costs at Michigan’s public universities. (See attached table.)

And as at all of the other public universities in Michigan, it is important to note that our financial aid spending has increased at a faster rate than tuition increases, so the impact on our poorest students has been minimized. Specifically, our financial aid expenditures have increased 111 percent in the past five years, from $3.2 million in 2003 to $6.8 million in 2008. Over that same period, our institutional aid has grown from 4 percent of our general fund expenditures to 7 percent. Clearly we have demonstrated our commitment to support student access through financial aid. (See attached chart.)

Our tuition revenues have taken an enormous hit in the past couple of years with the elimination of educational subsidies by the automotive companies. In the 2003-2004 academic year, we received nearly $2.6 million in tuition payments from the Detroit Three for their employees; last year that sum was less than $210,000.

While we have had terrific success with our fundraising efforts, and our level of sponsored research is higher than ever, those sources are not enough to offset the declines we’ve seen in state support.

And what are the outcomes we generate with this budget? We lead the state’s universities in the number of degrees awarded per full-year equated students, one of the most significant measures of institutional effectiveness. Another way of describing the same outcome: we are near the top in the number of degrees awarded per faculty member.

When you think of our budget this way, it is easy to see that a cutback or reduction in any of our revenue streams will require a compensatory reaction in some other part of our base.

One-time money has a very different impact. When we get it, it is positive, of course. But when we lose it, unless we’ve made plans to replace it in the base, the consequences can be extremely negative. There is a direct relationship between steady base-budget revenues and our ability to provide the high-quality education our students need.

One area where one-time monies, monies in the federal stimulus package, will be very helpful will be in enhancing Pell grants. We’re projecting that the broader eligibility and higher levels of support will mean that approximately 2,200 of our students, more than a third of our undergraduate enrollment, will receive a total of $7.3 million next year in Pell grants. That’s an increase of almost 200 students and more than $1.8 million over the totals of 2007-2008.

In addition, the governor’s proposal for a single aid program—the College Access Grant—will increase the number of our students who qualify for the need-based state grant from about 500 students currently to about 1,100 students next year, according to our projections and estimates.

Right now, it is very early in the process. We will have to carefully monitor the state’s, and our, financial circumstances over the next few months in order to strike the most advantageous balance of revenues and expenditures. Our goal is a balance that will enable our students to continue receiving the best value in their educational investment.

We will not retreat into an Ivory Tower and lose our connection to the communities we serve. As a metropolitan university, we must continue to serve both our students and our region. As a public university in the state of Michigan, I pledge that we will remain accountable to our students, our community and our elected leaders who continue to support us.


UM-Dearborn Comparison Chart 2009 (xls file, 23KB)

General Fund Expenditures 2000-2008 (xls file, 54KB)