NMU President Fritz Erickson recently testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education and Community Colleges as part of the state budget process. The subcommittee is comprised of mostly new members this cycle. It requested that university leaders address formula funding, first-generation students, enrollment trends and unique attributes of their institutions in their formal remarks.
Erickson said NMU has no particular concerns about the current formula measures, but said it is important to preserve a hard-dollar cap as an option if tuition restraint remains part of the funding process. A percentage-only cap unfairly penalizes low-tuition institutions like Northern, he added, creating an ever-widening gap between high- and low-tuition institutions.
Another concern Erickson expressed related to state mandates such as MPSERS, or the Michigan Public School Employees' Retirement System. Only seven universities share the burden of the MPSERS cost. He said NMU's responsibility equates to 11 percent of its state appropriation each year.
“Finally, if we were to make a suggestion for an additional component, it would be an incentive for successfully graduating higher-risk students,” Erickson said. “Northern prides itself on accepting and graduating students of all academic levels. However, this means some of our less college-prepared students come in at a higher risk of not graduating or taking longer to secure their degrees. Universities who graduate the diamond-in-the-rough students should be recognized for that accomplishment.”
Erickson told the subcommittee that 44 percent of NMU students self-report as first generation, an 8 percent increase over the five-year average. Among first-time, full-time freshmen from Michigan, 42 percent are first generation. Fifty-seven percent of Pell Grant-eligible students—the most financially challenged—are first generation.
Each university also was asked to address enrollment trends and specialty programs or unique aspects. Erickson relayed that, unlike many institutions, Northern has experienced enrollment growth among new students, including first-year and transfer students.
Among the “bold initiatives that are putting Northern at the forefront of educational innovation,” Erickson highlighted the Educational Access Network, or EAN. It has addressed the lack of rural broadband by bringing internet access to 51 U.P. communities, with another 30 in development. By the time the network crosses the U.P., there will be 114 connected communities.
It has not been determined at this point whether university presidents will be asked to testify before the Senate Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee.