President Mark Schlissel told state legislators Tuesday he has been impressed with Michigan residents’ optimism about the future and that “they look to higher education as a pathway to prosperity for their children and as a source of hope for the future.”
Schlissel was in Lansing for his first meeting with members of the state Senate and House Appropriations Subcommittees on Higher Education. He was one of several university leaders, including the UM-Dearborn and UM-Flint chancellors, addressing Gov. Rick Snyder’s higher-education budget recommendation with legislators.
The president recalled his travels around the state last summer before assuming the U-M presidency in mid-July. He said he was “continually struck by our state’s beauty, history and focus on the future.
“The people I met during that trip — and the many I have met since — take great pride in the colleges and universities that serve their communities.”
Schlissel said he had visited with some of the entrepreneurs responsible for the 14 startup companies launched last year based on U-M research, and met others who had started nonprofits in local communities.
“As a result of all of these conversations and observations, I am very bullish on the state of Michigan,” Schlissel said.
He also cited U-M’s “unprecedented collaboration of the auto, technology, urban planning, and insurance industries” teaming up with government and education partners to build a mobility transformation laboratory — the 32-acre facility called M City — on North Campus.
The president said he appreciates the state’s investment in the university’s work, including the 2 percent overall increase in higher-education funding included in the governor’s budget recommendation.
“While the budget proposal requires that we meet specific criteria to obtain increased funding, I want to assure you that we always take performance seriously at the University of Michigan and measure ourselves against our peers across the country in numerous ways,” Schlissel said.
“We look to identify best practices in the classroom, in our research and in the basic business functions of our institution. Measuring performance is a good way to show value and build confidence that the state’s investment in the University of Michigan is enhancing our ability to remain one of the top institutions of higher learning in the country.”
The president also discussed the university’s ongoing commitment to providing financial aid “that meets the need of every Michigan resident admitted to our university.”
“One of the things that has most impressed me about U-M’s commitment to college affordability is that we cover 100 percent of the demonstrated financial need of in-state students,” Schlissel said. “I have worked at outstanding public and private universities on both the coasts, and the Michigan commitment is truly remarkable.”
He said that commitment means that, for many Michigan students with financial need, it costs less to attend U-M today than it did five years ago.
UM-Dearborn Chancellor Daniel Little expressed his support and appreciation for Snyder’s proposed increase in state funding. He said the recommended increase demonstrated the governor’s commitment to state residents and students of varying socio-economic backgrounds.
Little encouraged the Legislature to accept the governor’s proposal to change the performance metric from the number of students that are Pell Grant eligible to the percentage eligible. He said this change would benefit smaller universities serving lower-income students.
UM-Flint Chancellor Susan Borrego expressed her support for increased state funding, adding that the governor’s recommended budget continues to recognize the need to make strategic investments in higher education.
She noted that as enrollment has grown on the Flint campus, the student body has become increasingly diverse, with African-American students making up nearly 29 percent of the incoming freshman class and a growing international student population.
“Diversity is crucial to all that we do. It enriches our community and adds an intangible value to the quality of our academic programs,” she said.