Commentary
10:40 am
Tue January 10, 2012

Destroying Our Future

All politicians say they’re against oppressive tax burdens. For instance, Governor Rick Snyder. Almost his entire program is focused on making Michigan more competitive economically.

But the tragic irony of this is that one of the unintended consequences of his reforms is having exactly the opposite effect. We are imposing a stiff and burdensome tax on our young people, making it harder for them to compete than most states do.

In some cases, we are making it impossible, and we are going to be paying the price for this for many years to come.

That’s because we are imposing what Phil Power at the Center for Michigan calls a “college user tax,” on the students of this state that saddles many with crushing debt and prices others out of the market entirely. I learned the details this morning from a story in Bridge, the new online newsmagazine published by the Center, a non-partisan, non-profit group aimed at finding common-sense solutions for our state’s problems. Phil Power also wrote his weekly column about the study. It makes for shocking reading.

The study shows that Michigan families pay more to send their children to state universities than families in almost every other state. This is partly, Bridge adds, because Michigan gives its state colleges and universities less money.

I do need to mention that this is not only, or even mostly, the fault of Governor Snyder and the current legislature. They’ve just made a bad problem worse. As Bridge puts it,  “A decades-long decision to skim money from the state’s 15 public universities means [that] Michigan teens face a higher hurdle to attend college, and leave campus with more debt than their peers in other states.”

I can’t imagine a better way to sabotage our economy. Power noted that our politicians seem to regard higher education as a luxury. That may have been true half a century ago, when someone without education or skills had an alternative way of earning a good living, thanks to the automobile industry and the unions. But today, our old brawn-based economy is gone, and it's never coming back.

Higher education is to the present generation what a high school diploma was to their parents - the minimum entry ticket to a shot at the good life. And we are making it harder and harder.

Bridge Magazine found that the price of going to the University of Michigan for three years was slightly more than an entire, four-year education at many other high-caliber research universities. The cost of an engineering degree at Michigan State is $16,000 more than the same degree at Purdue.

This was not the case when I was a student 40 years ago, for one simple reason. Back then, three-quarters of university funding came from the state; only a quarter from tuition. Today, that ratio has been reversed. And it is destroying our future.

We could fix this easily, with a minimal burden on taxpayers - Bridge puts it at the cost of a candy bar a week. Or, we can do nothing, and watch as we begin to resemble Bangladesh.

For centuries, we have wanted the next generation to have better lives that we did. We now have policies that are bound to make things worse for them instead. Is this really the American way?