The key driver of economic development in the world today is human capital. In a "flat" world where production can be shipped almost anywhere, education is the factor that gives one geographic area a long-term advantage over another. The availability of a well-educated work force is the reason technology companies still congregate in places such as Massachusetts and California, states whose tax rates and high cost of living would otherwise make them uncompetitive.
Yet in a time when developing human capital is critical, Michigan has turned its back on higher education. The Legislature cut state support for higher education by nearly 50 percent, about $1 billion, between 2001 and 2011. Several years ago we gained the dubious distinction of being one of the few states that spends more money on prisons than universities — 76 percent more this year.
The result has been spiraling tuition rates that make it increasingly difficult for Michigan residents to afford the education they need to compete in the modern economy.
Reversing that trend was the subject of a conference ... sponsored by Business Leaders of Michigan.
Several speakers drew contrasts between Michigan and North Carolina, a state with comparable demographics and economics.
While Michigan spends $1.1 billion a year on public universities, North Carolina provides $2.5 billion. Grand Valley State University President Thomas Haas noted that his school is getting $2,365 per student in state funding this year, while the University of North Carolina gets $11,000.
Not surprisingly, a public university education in North Carolina is a whole lot more affordable than it is in Michigan.