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Business Leaders Concerned about Negative Higher Education Funding Changes

Adapted from the May 17, 2021 URC press release

Business leaders from across the state spoke out today about the need to maintain funding for Michigan’s universities — especially the state’s top research universities – so businesses will be able to tap the highly educated college graduates and research they need as the economy recovers.

The higher education budget just passed by the Senate echoes the 2% increase Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed for higher education funding. It’s a budget under which students at all 15 universities benefit. The budget passed by the House is very different. It picks winners and losers and will have a negative effect on students, businesses and Michigan’s economic future, the business leaders said during a virtual news conference.

“I’d actually like to see even more money going to universities, especially now that the federal government is sending additional funds to be invested in higher education,” said Mike Jandernoa, the former Perrigo CEO who now heads 42 North Partners, a Grand Rapids firm that supports entrepreneurship and community investment. His wife, Sue, serves on the Grand Valley State University Board of Trustees, and Mike Jandernoa has been an adviser to several University of Michigan presidents.

“I hope our lawmakers realize that one of the most important assets a state can have is universities that produce graduates who keep the economic engine running,” Jandernoa said. “While I want to see all universities supported well, our top-ranked research universities invest more to train graduates in high-demand jobs and deserve to have that reflected in their state funding.”

Dow President and Chief Financial Officer Howard Ungerleider made his comments through a pre-recorded video from Midland.

“As a Michigan-based company, I am proud of Dow’s partnership with our research universities. Together, we have co-invested time and resources to create the materials and chemistries that will help solve some of society’s greatest challenges, such as addressing climate change and accelerating integration of electric and autonomous vehicles,” he said. “Michigan manufacturers – and society at large – benefit greatly from the innovation and talent cultivated within our state’s colleges and universities, allowing us to compete globally while remaining committed to our communities in Michigan.

“As we come out of the pandemic and begin to reclaim many aspects of our lives, we must make sure our universities continue to be supported with funding that drives this state-of-the-art research in science and technology. Now is not the time to pull back on these investments,” Ungerleider added.

Paul Glantz, the driving force behind the development and operation of metro Detroit’s Emagine theaters and their innovations to the movie-going experience, said the COVID pandemic made for a tough year in the movie theater business — and a tough year for university students having to learn in a whole new way.

“I know how important it is for all of our universities to receive funding sufficient to ensure the continuation of both teaching excellence and cutting-edge research here in Michigan. That’s why I implore our policy leaders to support these great institutions that serve as the cornerstone of value creation and upward mobility in our society,” he said.

“Reduced higher education funding is diametrically at with odds with helping students become the talented graduates that Michigan businesses need,” Glantz added. “Our universities host incubation centers where students can access help in getting their ideas off the ground and learn from experts how to start up and run a business. Those are the kind of graduates we need if Michigan is to remain an innovation leader.”

Jim Hackett, a former CEO of Steelcase in Grand Rapids and Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, noted that it’s more expensive to run the graduate and doctoral programs that Michigan businesses rely on for top-notch engineers, business graduates and technology specialists.

“Prospective students have choices as to where they might go for the topics that are hottest today — artificial intelligence, battery science, genetics. This funding proposal will build a bigger gap to overcome for Michigan’s universities competing with other state universities for the top talent,” he said. “Worse, it causes tuition to go up and makes it harder for some students to get a college degree and be part of the talent pipeline we count on.

“I urge lawmakers to fairly fund our universities in ways that won’t hurt students or our many strong businesses that call Michigan home,” Hackett added.

Britany Affolter-Caine introduced the four business leaders and explained how House efforts to underfund some universities could drive up tuition costs and keep universities from having the kinds of facilities and top faculty that would enable students gain the skills they need to be leaders in their fields.

“Continued disinvestment in higher education means universities can’t offer the cutting-edge facilities and top faculty that allow them to educate the top-level graduates businesses need,” said Affolter-Caine, executive director of the University Research Corridor, an affiliation between Michigan’s top three research universities — Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University.

“The three URC universities alone grant nearly 12,000 degrees in high-tech areas annually, as well as nearly 13,000 degrees in high-demand areas such as business, computer science and engineering. They also grant nearly 2,500 medical degrees each year,” she said. “Those are the kinds of graduates needed to create autonomous vehicles, medical devices, better agricultural crops and solutions to the challenges our communities and businesses face today.”

As the House and Senate budget bills move to conference committee, Jandernoa, Ungerleider, Glantz and Hackett said they hope the resulting budget will help Michigan’s businesses get the talent they need.

A recording of today’s virtual news conference can be found here.