President Haas addresses Higher Education Appropriations Committee

President Thomas J. Haas
President Thomas J. Haas
Posted on

Grand Valley State University President Thomas J. Haas addressed the Michigan House of Representatives Higher Education Appropriations Committee on March 5, and highlighted the successes the university has had in exceeding metrics suggested by lawmakers.

His testimony, which was accompanied by a presentation, is below. 

 

Testimony for Michigan House of Representatives, Higher Education Appropriations Committee

Thomas J. Haas, President, Grand Valley State University

March 5, 2013

 

Good morning and thank you for the chance to share a few things about Grand Valley and report on what we’re doing to help make college more affordable. 

Grand Valley is the state’s fifth largest university with an enrollment of nearly 25,000 students on five campuses. Grand Valley has grown from last place to fifth place in just slightly more than fifty years.

Our main campus is in Allendale, the center of our residential undergraduate program.  Our second largest location is in Grand Rapids, where undergraduate and graduate students study in our colleges of business, engineering, community and public service, education, and the health professions.   Our third campus is in Holland where many students are non-traditional and part time, pursuing degree completion.  We have a special focus here on underserved populations and dual enroll many such students in a unique partnership with Grand Rapids Community College in which GRCC offers its classes on our campus.

We also offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in partnership programs at The Center for Higher Education at Muskegon Community College and in Traverse City at the University Center of Northwestern Michigan College.   We have articulation agreements with every community college in the state.

Our students come from every corner of Michigan, and Michigan residents comprise about 95% of our enrollment.   We are attracting some of the best and brightest citizens from Michigan.

We know you are interested in performance.  We expect to be held accountable, and we’re proud of Grand Valley’s success.  Our retention rate places us in the upper quartile of Michigan’s institutions.  Our graduation rate is also in the upper quartile.  Our students are sought after by Michigan employers.  In a survey of recent graduates, nearly 90% are working or attending graduate school, and of those working, nearly 85% are pursuing their careers in Michigan.  Last year our students participated in 7,000 internships, giving them an advantage on employment.   Business Leaders for Michigan has urged more support for higher education, with the goal of having our state universities rank in the upper quintile of their national peers by 2022.  Grand Valley is in that upper quintile today.

We’re completing two major construction projects this spring -- a new library, and a new home for our college of business.  Eighteen hundred Michigan jobs were needed to support their construction.  No state funds are involved – testimony to the generous donors who form the backbone of Grand Valley’s historic public-private partnership.  Bill Seidman, a business person and founder of Grand Valley, believed our university would be an economic engine for our region.  And that we are, with an economic impact of three quarters of a billion dollars and a return of $25 for each $1 of state investment.

You’ve asked about affordability, and it is on my mind every day.  Grand Valley’s tuition, in 10th place, is below the state average.  We know that many of our students need financial aid in order to complete their degree.   At $6,248, the average student receiving financial aid pays nearly $4,000 a year less than the sticker price. 

We’re serious about helping our students stay on track to attain their degree.  This year, seniors who met the requirements for a “Grand Finish” received an early graduation present of $1,000 each. These grants help them complete their education on time.  Last year, 40% of our students who completed their degrees in four years graduated with NO debt. 

What makes this financial performance remarkable is the fact that Grand Valley is dead last in state support per student.  I think of all the slides shared with you, this slide demonstrates clearly the “cost shift” in public higher education. 

This year, just 17% of our revenue comes from taxpayers.  And we put all of it in financial aid, debt service, utilities, and capital repairs.  In other words, employees at Grand Valley do not have a penny of tax revenue in their salary. 

How did this happen?  How could the school with such high performance end up with the lowest state funding and almost the lowest in the nation?

The answer – and it deserves careful thought in this room – is that we did everything the State asked of us.    

What do I mean – “we did, what we were asked?”

Your predecessors asked us to be accessible to qualified students.  We are.   As you can see, enrollment at Grand Valley increased by more than 50% in the past twelve years.

We were asked to improve graduation rates.  We did.  As enrollment went up 50%, degrees awarded went up 100%.  In fact, Grand Valley alone accounted for nearly 25% of the increase in college graduates in Michigan in the last ten years.

We were asked for efficiency.  We heard you.  Our cost per degree has dropped by 30% compared to ten years ago.  Our administrative costs have held steady as a percentage of the budget for more than two decades.

We were asked to double the number of degrees.  We did.  And saw our budget cut by 31%.

We were asked to add new degree programs in STEM fields that are in demand by today’s employers.  We did.  As BLM testified here earlier this month, Grand Valley’s STEM performance is best in class. And we did this when the state was unable to help pay for these high cost programs.

We were asked to partner with others in the education pipeline.  We are!  We lead the State with nine reverse transfer agreements with community colleges.  We lead the State in performance measures with our 52 GVSU authorized charter schools, serving 25,400 K-12 students.

We were asked to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.  We do this every day.  We deliver our desired outcomes with $2,200 less than the average per student funding from the State.

We were asked to hold down tuition and increase financial aid to those students in need, even as state appropriations were being cut.  We did again.  For 17 years, GVSU is one of “America’s 100 Best Buys”.

I suspect by now you are getting my point:  Lansing policies and math can be curious. 

  • Add students, lose funding per student. 
  • Reduce enrollment, get more money per student. 
  • Add sorely needed but expensive new programs, receive excellent review of their performance, lose funding per student.

GVSU increased enrollment and significantly grew the number of Michigan graduates.  However, by not taking into account enrollment dynamics, our base budget does not reflect today’s reality.

Surely, we can improve on our partnership and craft a better approach to allocating our scarce resources to achieve our mutual purposes.

Predictability and accountability are a two-way street.  I’ve lived by the mantra, honed while in the Coast Guard, that while we face challenges, we must do the best we can with what we have and achieve our mission.  You can count on Grand Valley to be a committed partner.   We’ve been asked to be accountable and transparent to all of our stakeholders.  We look to you for the same commitment.  As long as I am president, you can count on the integrity of Grand Valley State University and the promises I make on its behalf.

So what is important?

I share with you one example from the Michigan Dashboard for higher education.   The number of Michigan adults with a four- year degree places Michigan 35th in the nation, and in the ACT metric for college readiness we are 44th.  So I ask:  What are the priorities for our State?  Is investing in Michigan’s human capital one of them?  Should a strategic budget follow?  There are other relevant metrics on the Michigan Dashboard.  This is a good step forward in assisting the state in answering these and other questions that I hope you debate.

As Business Leaders for Michigan said to you:  Let’s make Michigan a top-10 state again.  It’s a fact that the most prosperous of the 50 states are the states with the most college graduates.  We need great jobs here in Michigan for the next generation, and universities help make that happen.   Doing this is my life’s work.  With your active partnership, I know we can help our students succeed, and to stay here for great careers and an even greater Michigan.

This is a new year, and a new committee.  I realize that you have to make decisions that are difficult at times and I appreciate your individual and collective leadership.  You have the important and very timely opportunity to create a rational, sustainable, predictable, fair and outcomes-focused budget that will enable all of us to shape and retain the talent needed by our State.  At the end of the day, I remain optimistic, as I know that we all want the same outcomes:  affordable high-quality universities, accessible to Michigan residents, where students earn degrees that employers value, and with our graduates sustaining a Michigan that we are proud to call our home and that is integral to our nation.  

Thank you, and I’m pleased to answer any questions.

printPrint