The Grand Rapids Press in its Oct. 2 editorial rightly points out that the cost of public higher education is an issue worthy of serious public discussion. As The Press observed, this need not be a debate about governance. Rather, it’s about what we can do together to make college more affordable.
Necessarily, this discussion begins with two elemental questions: what do state policy makers expect from their public universities; and, how will the state fulfill its constitutional obligation to maintain them? We welcome this kind of all-encompassing discussion.
Constructive engagement is key to a productive outcome. Unfortunately, many find it easy to just blame universities for the high cost of tuition, ignoring — often conveniently — the fact that tuition has gone up because state funding has gone down. Thirty years ago, the state provided 75 percent of Grand Valley’s operating revenue. Today, it is just 14 percent, yielding a per student allocation that is almost last in the nation.
We are not complaining. The state cannot appropriate money it does not have, so the need for us to economize has never been greater. Grand Valley has cut budgets, frozen salaries, restricted new positions, and developed new health insurance options that share expenses 80/20 with faculty and staff. In hundreds of ways every year, we avoid millions of dollars in expense.