Michigan's public universities increased the amount of money listed on their books as "unrestricted" net assets to about $4.2 billion, or by 24% over the previous fiscal year, a Free Press review of financial documents shows. That fact is likely to renew frustrations among students, faculty and universities' staffs with recent tuition increases, wage freezes and layoffs approved at some schools to meet operating budgets.
Some parents and university students say officials should tap at least some of the money in the reserve accounts to lower tuition rates, which universities have increased as they work to cover cuts to state aid.
But officials at several of Michigan's state universities said using that money -- generally meant for special one-time projects -- would have negative long-term effects.
The money is listed in university documents as "unrestricted," which means it can be used however governing boards wish. Though that is technically true, universities say the money is spoken for and that they should not follow the state's example of tapping reserves to cover recurring costs.