Chancellor's Office

Senate Testimony 2008

Michigan Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education

Remarks by Chancellor Daniel Little


March 3, 2008

Good morning members of the committee, and welcome to the University of Michigan-Dearborn campus.  We’re always happy to welcome elected officials to our campus, and hope you’ll be able to stay with us a few minutes after the formal proceedings today to learn more about the great work being done by our faculty, students and staff members here.

I will divide my remarks in two parts today.  In the second part I will be describing the unique role of the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and the “metropolitan vision” we are pursuing.  But first, I would like to address the subject of higher education funding more generally, and how the public universities can help address the economic challenges facing the state, but only if we are supported at appropriate levels.

Last year when we met, I expressed my serious concerns with this committee with regard to higher education funding in the state of Michigan.

I want to reiterate those concerns today.  Despite the modest increase you were able to make in our appropriations this fiscal year, it was not enough to reverse the long-term downward slide in our state support, from a high of $1.8 billion in 2002 to $1.613 billion in the current fiscal year.

This is at just the time when neighboring states are finding ways to enhance support–-and to improve their ability to produce the creative and well-educated “knowledge-workers” and leaders that their states will need to compete in a 21st century economy.  Over the past 10 years, Illinois increased its higher education appropriations by 30 percent, Indiana by 40 percent, Minnesota by 34 percent and Ohio by 28 percent.  During the same period, Michigan’s higher education appropriation increased by less than 12 percent.

This very disturbing data from the Illinois State University’s report of state higher education appropriations reports Michigan ranked 49th out of the 50 states in terms of increases in support for public higher education.

This is the time for Michigan to significantly increase the number of college-educated students in the state.  This is a time to focus on outcomes – not just progress.  It is for this reason that I support much about the formula proposed by the Governor in her 2009 Budget recommendation.

All 15 universities in the state are doing valiant work in supporting the state's needs for well-educated young people.  Recognizing and supporting universities on the basis of the students they actually graduate seems precisely the right approach at this time.

All of us are working hard to bring research dollars to the state and new knowledge to bear on the economic and business problems our regions face.  Again, in this regard the executive budget provides incentive for all of us to continue focusing on this important aspect of our mission.

Many of us are also working hard to address the problem of adults being pushed out of the manufacturing economy.  UM-Dearborn for its part is working closely with the Road to Renaissance plan in attempting to find ways of encouraging these adults to return to colleges and universities.  We are encouraged by the objectives of the “No Worker Left Behind” initiative and are intent on fostering greater collaboration between these initiatives.

To cite only one statistic, there are now more than 150,000 workers between 25 and 34 years old in the tri-county area who have attended college but not earned a bachelor’s degree.  We all need to work together to help more of these people finish their degrees as a necessary step to regional economic growth.

At the same time, there are thousands of jobs going unfilled in our region because of the shortage of workers qualified to fill those jobs.  According to data gathered by the Southeast Michigan Community Alliance, there’s a rolling average of somewhere between 12,000 and 18,000 job openings every month in a 50-mile radius in southeastern Michigan.  These are not menial or unskilled jobs:  More than 3,000 of them are in information technology; more than 3,000 of them are in health care; more than 1,000 of them are in accounting and auditing.

This lack of trained and skilled workers also is a factor limiting our capacity to attract new employers to our state.  In short, we need to graduate more students in all areas of higher education, community colleges as well as the four-year universities.

I come before you as an advocate.  But I am not here primarily as an advocate for the universities.  The most important constituency here is not the universities; it is the young people, adults returning to education, and the for-profit and not-for-profit corporations in the regions that we serve.  And we cannot do this important work at the level of quality our constituents deserve without more adequate and consistent support from the state. This is a partnership between the students, their families, and our state government, and the result of good partnership is high-quality education.

I believe that our public universities are working hard and smart in keeping up their end of the social contract we have in providing education to our citizens.  I take great pride in the commitment of the Dearborn faculty to our students and to the quality of the curriculum in every part of the campus, and I am sure that every president or chancellor would express that same confidence.

What are the consequences of the long-term slide in state support for higher education?

To start, it is a predictable and rapid increase in the level of tuition that our students need to pay for the educational value they receive.  This is very difficult for the students and their families.  But it is even more difficult for them, and much more harmful for their futures, to permit the degradation of the education that we offer them.  So tuitions have increased.

We have worked hard and taken a progressive approach to moderate the impact of the tuition increase by increasing financial aid by an equal or greater percentage.  During the 2007 fiscal year, our state appropriation increased by approximately 1 percent, and our tuition increased by 7.9 percent.  During the same year however our spending on institutional financial aid went up by nearly $600,000, an increase of 15.7 percent.

But much, much more worrisome is the erosion of quality that almost always accompanies the decline of state support.  We are forced to find spending reductions wherever we can find them – by reducing sections, by eliminating small classes, by postponing or canceling the replacement of faculty and staff upon retirement.  These steps lead to an increase in the difficulty that students experience in completing their degree requirements.  Less tangibly, it creates an environment where it is very difficult to sustain the strong morale and commitment that a university needs among its faculty and staff in order to be truly excellent in its teaching, research and service.

We in the state of Michigan are at a crisis, a tipping point.  Will the universities be provided with the support necessary to nurture the talents of the one asset that is truly scarce and truly valuable—the talented knowledge worker?  Or will our universities be pushed down the slope of declining quality?

I urge you and your colleagues to help turn this trend around.  Take the difficult steps that will be needed to correct the structural deficits in the state; and find the resources that are necessary to adequately support the universities that are so committed to the well-being of our students and the regions we serve.

Specifically, I would propose that we invest an increasing proportion of the state general fund budget in higher education.  Since 1992, the state has consistently allocated between 17.5 percent and 19.7 percent of the general fund budget to support higher education.  However, we have seen an alarming decline in this ratio since 2002 when state support for higher education has declined from 19.7 percent of the general fund to 16.5 percent in 2008.  I would propose that we gradually reverse this trend and increase our investment over time by even 2 percent of the general fund.  Doing this would not only improve educational outcomes across the board.  It would also help us retain more of our students after graduation, and attract the firms that will generate more jobs and thus more prosperity for Michigan in the new economy.

Now, please allow me to turn more specifically to the subject of the University of Michigan-Dearborn and the “metropolitan vision” that our campus is pursuing. 

The briefest description of our collective vision is simply this:  The University of Michigan-Dearborn embodies the excellence of the University of Michigan in service to metropolitan Detroit. 

We define our mission in two ways.  Our first priority is to provide a high-quality University of Michigan education to the future leaders and citizens of our region.  Our alumni and our current students make up a package of extraordinary value to this community.  They are highly diverse in terms of socioeconomic status and age as well as race and ethnicity.  At the same time the academic profile of our students reflects great preparation and capacity to compete at the highest level.  After graduation, they form a great pool of talent that continues to serve Michigan.

I want to cite one very important measure of the effectiveness of any university, and that is in how many of our students actually achieve the goal of earning a college degree.  We applaud the Governor’s budget recommendation specifically because it recognizes this critical output measure.  At UM-Dearborn, we award approximately 1,200 bachelor’s degrees and 600 master’s degrees per year, which equates to 30 percent of our total enrollment, measured by full-year equated students.  This is one of the most significant ways to gauge how well an institution is serving the needs of its students, and UM-Dearborn campus has one of the highest ratios in the state.  Further, we appreciate the Governor’s budget recommendation for fiscal year 2009 that recognizes the importance of raising the numbers of graduates in engineering, science, technology and math.  This is consistent with the bipartisan recommendations of the Cherry Commission and reflects demand within emerging growth sectors in the new economy.  Further the Governor’s proposed 2008 Capital Outlay budget recommends support for UM-Dearborn’s request for funding to remodel our science and computer technology facilities.  This is an essential component of our strategy to graduate more “STEM” majors.

The other element of our mission is the commitment to apply our intellectual resources directly to the key needs and opportunities in our region.  Specifically, we have identified five areas where our resources can make a difference.  These are areas where there is significant challenge, where the University of Michigan-Dearborn has real strength, and where there is potential for long-term positive impact.

These areas are:

  • Supporting competitive manufacturing in a global marketplace

Our College of Engineering and Computer Science works very closely both with the industries that are the historic core of our region’s economy, as well as with the emerging industries in alternative energy and other fields.

  • Addressing the persistent consequences of racial and ethnic discrimination in our region

We have worked with New Detroit on a dynamic project to engage our students in “Conversations on Race” for several years.  We also have received national attention including support from the Ford Foundation for a program that has worked with religious congregations and other groups to encourage dialogue on questions of religious, racial and ethnic diversity in our region.

  • Tackling environmental challenges unique to our urban setting

For the last decade, UM-Dearborn has played a leadership role in collaboration with Wayne and Oakland county governments and dozens of municipalities to create a 21st century vision for the Rouge River watershed, which had been one of the most environmentally challenged in the Great Lakes.  This work has generated more than $3 billion in investment, attracted hundreds of millions of Federal dollars and become a national model for environmentally sustainable economic growth.

  • Working with schools and other institutions to improve education for children from before they start kindergarten, through high school and beyond

In one example, our School of Education is working very closely with Oakwood Hospital’s Program for Exceptional Families on an innovative program specifically focused on serving children with disabilities and their families.  As a result of this collaboration, Oakwood was able to purchase a state-of-the-art early childhood facility which UM-Dearborn’s early childhood program will lease half of the space.  This will enable us to double the number of certified pre-school teachers we graduate each year.  We also will be one of the first programs in the nation to certify these teachers in special education.

Another of our projects has a great deal of promise for improving mathematics education.  Our faculty are engaged in a multi-year outreach project to work with math teachers in districts across southeastern Michigan.  District administrators have told us that when we teach hundreds of teachers to think about math more deeply, MEAP scores have gone up.

  • Helping regional leaders develop the complex skills they need to better serve their communities

Our Institute for Local Government is focused on improving the quality of governance at the local level with programs to help local elected officials with courses on municipal finance, planning and zoning, water policy, and conflict management.  Our goal is not only to help local officials work better, but also to build the kind of skill sets and relationships that will help these separate units of government learn to work together.  In addition, scholars in our School of Management have developed an “entrepreneurial cities index” which is helping local units of government understand and implement initiatives to make them more competitive and attractive to new business investment.

The historic mission of the University of Michigan-Dearborn remains our focus today: providing a broad-based, high-quality education grounded in the liberal arts to some of the most able and ambitious students in southeastern Michigan. 

We engage these students with creativity, imagination and rigor in our classrooms and laboratories.  They emerge as graduates who are able to compete in their professional lives and who are dedicated to living in and contributing to the social, civic and cultural life of southeastern Michigan. Our graduates stay in Michigan and apply their talents to the challenges and opportunities the state faces.

This being said, we know this is not enough.  UM-Dearborn and our sister institutions across the state must do more if our state is to emerge from recession and become competitive.  Everyone agrees that for Michigan to have a prosperous future, we need to invest in our human capital and increase the number of people in the state who have completed college.

At UM-Dearborn, we are particularly focused on preparing students to compete for the jobs of the 21st century.  There is one thing we can say about Michigan’s economic future with absolute certainty.  We know that the future prosperity of our state will depend in large measure on how many engineers we will be able to educate and retain in the state.  At UM-Dearborn, we have a larger fraction of students enrolled in engineering than any school in the state, with the exception of Michigan Tech.  Our engineering programs are at the highest quality as measured by peer groups and the reports of magazines like U.S. News.  And we provide engineering education more efficiently than most schools in the state, measured by the number of degrees we award compared to the number of our engineering faculty members.

In addition, our campus is making significant contributions to Michigan’s economy through direct and applied research on some of the major challenges facing the auto industry.  We attract postdoctoral students from around the world as well as millions of dollars in sponsored research and contracts.  Our engineering school is truly a global leader in research on “rapid prototyping” technologies, on materials research that will lead to lighter and more fuel efficient vehicles, and on coordinated research to support the advanced vehicle systems of the future.

While we are cognizant of the need to prepare our students to compete in a global economy in the next 10 years, our focus is also on the longer term.  We know that Michigan’s future will be characterized by rapid and significant change.  The education we offer at the University of Michigan-Dearborn is focused on preparing our students to lead the region’s businesses, schools, public agencies and communities for decades to come, no matter what changes may come or what challenges we face.

We have more than 37,000 living alumni, with three-quarters of them living and working in the tri-county area.  Their service represents a huge investment in the human capital of the state’s economic center, an investment that will continue to pay benefits for generations to come.

I thank you for your attention, and I am happy to take your questions.