The State’s Role

University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman is getting involved in President Obama’s college cost discussion, sort of. As she appears to see it, college is getting more expensive for students because it’s getting less money from other sources.

According to a piece by David Jesse in the Detroit Free Press:

In an open letter sent today to Obama, Coleman said funding for higher education is at critical levels.

“The University of Michigan and our state’s 14 other public institutions have been ground zero for funding cuts. The state’s significant disinvestment in higher education has been challenging: a 15 percent cut in the last year alone, and a reduction of more than 30 percent over the last decade.

“Mr. President, you have two wonderful daughters; I have two beautiful grandchildren. Parents and grandparents throughout the country want a secure, productive future for our young, and that future will demand a college education. As a former college professor, you know the rewards of seeing students grow intellectually, exercise critical thinking, and begin to shape their communities. This transformative experience of higher learning contributes to the overall well-being of our nation.

While she mentioned that colleges “need to do a better job of controlling cost,” the true solution she’s advocating is a little murky.

She’s probably right, at least to a point, but it’s going to be pretty difficult for the Coleman to really be convincing. If tuition hikes are caused primarily by cuts from the state legislatures, the solution is for states to appropriate more money. But how much money and how often? And how can we fix this problem so public university funding isn’t a horrible battle every time the economy slows?

Presumably President Obama agrees with Coleman that states should provide more money to colleges, but he has no control over the legislatures. What does Coleman want Obama to do about this?

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer