Michigan Tech President Tells House, Senate: Universities are the Engine Driving Economic Recovery

By Jennifer Donovan | Published

Testifying before the Michigan House and Senate subcommittees on higher education in Lansing this week, Michigan Tech President Glenn Mroz painted a promising picture of the relationship between universities and a robust  economy.

“This state and nation need the scientific and technological breakthroughs that cause dramatic increases in production and efficiency,” he said, “and these breakthroughs are dependent on the faculty, staff, students and graduates of research universities. It is these people who, through excellent education and technological innovation, can attract the capital that will create the jobs that will change Michigan.”

But, Mroz went on to say, there is a stunning disconnect between the state University’s growth and its state support. 

Michigan Tech has almost doubled its number of students—from 4,200 to 7,000--and increased its research spending nearly 50-fold since 1966, yet state funding corrected for inflation is exactly the same as it was then, he pointed out. 

“Over the past 10 years, financial support from the state has decreased 32 percent, from a high of $55.2 million in 2002 to a proposed 2012 base of $37.4 million,” Mroz said.  Yet Michigan Tech produces graduates with the hands-on experience and entrepreneurial skills to command the highest average starting salary of any of the state’s public universities. Even during an economic turndown, 87 percent of Michigan Tech graduates have found jobs within six months after graduation.

Tuition has gone up 33 percent in the past five years, Mroz said, “but financial aid has increased 100 percent.”

With research expenditures pushing $70 million this year—most of it coming from the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Defense and the US Department of Energy—Michigan Tech produces a high number of invention disclosures, and two-thirds of those invention disclosures include students.

“We work with business to commercialize technologies developed at the University,” Mroz told the legislators. “We are partners with the SmartZone to actively commercialize technology, and just recently, we established another technology accelerator, the Michigan Tech Entrepreneurial Support Corp, to help faculty, staff and students take discoveries and developments to the marketplace.

The President mentioned two other funding issues facing Michigan’s public universities:  the rising costs of a state retirement program to which some University employees hired before 1996 belong and a proposal to turn community colleges into four-year degree-granting institutions. 

All employees hired since 1996 have been on a defined contribution retirement program that requires an employee match.  Employees hired before 1996 who chose the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS) are not required to contribute to their retirement, and they receive retiree health care benefits, which employees under the defined contribution system do not.  

“The costs are out of control,” Mroz said. “In 2012, we will have to pay $5.2 million back to the state for our MPSERS employees. That is money that comes directly off the top of our state appropriation, and it’s 43 percent of the MPSERS employees’  payroll.”

MPSERS is governed by a state board, and “no one from a public university sits on that board,” Mroz noted. “We need your help with this,” he said. “We’ve got some ideas, and we’d be happy to talk with you and your staff about them.”

Mroz also objected to a proposal to turn the state’s more than 30 community colleges into 4-year public universities. “The missions of the community college should not be confused with that of the universities. You need both,” he said.

The House and Senate higher education subcommittees hold hearings each year before passing budget legislation. They invite the 15 state universities presidents to testify.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.