Rochester — Destinee Rule has worked a full-time job the four years she’s been a student at Oakland University. The 21-year-old from Chicago has no choice but to work 40 hours a week to pay her tuition bill, help her family back home and just survive.
“(Students) are literally living paycheck to paycheck to make sure they can afford to go to Oakland University and it’s upsetting because I’m one of those students,” Rule said. “But we definitely know it’s not the university’s fault, that there’s some way the state can help alleviate that out-of-pocket payment as well.”
Rule, a political science major, is not alone. Many OU students are struggling because the school doesn’t get enough state funding, especially compared with other Michigan universities, OU officials say, which limits what the school can provide in grants and scholarships
To combat this, university President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz on Wednesday announced the “Strive for 45” campaign, pledging to appeal to state legislators, the governor and the business, civic and philanthropic communities to raise the minimum state funding to $4,500 per student.
“Strive for 45 aims to achieve equity but without cannibalizing the better-funded universities,” Pescovitz said during a kickoff event at Oakland University.
The “funding floor” is the minimum amount the state provides per student, and in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, OU received $3,069, the lowest of the state’s 15 public universities.
In contrast, Wayne State University in Detroit receives the highest amount of government funding with $8,999 per student. OU is among five universities that receive less than $4,500: Grand Valley State, UM-Flint, UM-Dearborn and Saginaw Valley.
Pescovitz said 100% percent of the existing floor funding goes to students via financial aid and scholarships and the school is not looking to lower tuition rates. OU’s tuition this year for an in-state freshman is $13,462.50.
“Oakland University has not received the type of state support that our students deserve,” she said. “Do we want to be known as a state that’s recognized for spending more money on the corrections budget, that funds the incarceration of our residents (more) than it spends on educating college students?”
Oakland University says it uses its funding to offer need-based financial aid and scholarships, hire graduate assistants and students, provide for campus safety and offer research opportunities.
Pescovitz suggested legislation to allocate funds to public universities from other sources over a four-year period to boost higher education funding.
“The legislature has simply not prioritized college affordability for Michigan students and families,” said Daniel Hurley, the CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities, an advocacy group for the state’s higher education institutions.
In 2000, the state Legislature implemented floor funding of $4,500 per pupil; however, according to Hurley, the state has invested less in recent years. For 2019-20, state spending on higher education is a little under $1.7 billion.
In her proposed budget released this month, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called for a 2.5% funding increase for the state’s 15 public universities and 28 community colleges.
“The Governor wants to do more for higher education, and we know that more needs to be done on top of our recommended 2.5% increase in the budget proposal, but the state’s General Fund has been relatively flat for more than 20 years and there are tremendous pressures on that revenue,” Kurt Weiss, a spokesman for the State Budget Office, said in an email.
“With so many different spending pressures, it’s a difficult balance to fund all of the priorities that are facing the state.”
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