Chancellor's Office

House Testimony 2007

Michigan House of Representatives
House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education

 

March 2, 2007

Representative Byrnes and members of the committee: I am grateful for the opportunity to talk with you today about how the University of Michigan-Dearborn serves the people of our region and the state of Michigan.

Over the past two years the students, faculty and staff of the University of Michigan-Dearborn have been engaged in an inclusive and  comprehensive examination of our role as a public university and our mission to serve Michigan's citizens. Our goal in this process has been to articulate a new metropolitan vision for the University of Michigan-Dearborn that focuses our resources to have a powerful impact in southeastern Michigan.

The briefest description of our collective vision is simply this: The University of Michigan-Dearborn embodies the excellence of the University of Michigan in service to metropolitan Detroit.

We define our mission in two ways. Our first priority is to provide a high-quality University of Michigan education to the future leaders and citizens of our region. Our alumni and our current students make up a package of extraordinary value to this community. They are highly diverse in terms of socioeconomic status and age as well as race and ethnicity. At the same time the academic profile of our students reflects great preparation and capacity to compete at the highest level.

After graduation, they form a great pool of talent that continues to serve Michigan.

The other element of our mission is the commitment to apply our intellectual resources directly to the key needs and opportunities in our region. Specifically, we have identified five areas where our resources can make a difference. These are areas where there is significant challenge, where the University of Michigan-Dearborn has real strength, and where there is potential for long-term positive impact.

These areas are:

  • Supporting competitive manufacturing in a global marketplace;
  • Addressing the persistent consequences of racial and ethnic discrimination in our region;
  • Tackling environmental challenges unique to our urban setting;
  • Working with schools and school systems to improve education for children from before they start kindergarten, through high school and beyond; and
  • Helping regional leaders develop the complex skills they need to better serve their communities.

The historic mission of the University of Michigan-Dearborn remains our focus today: providing a broad-based, high-quality liberal arts education to some of the most able and ambitious students in southeastern Michigan. We engage these students with creativity, imagination and rigor in our classrooms and laboratories.

They emerge as graduates who are able to compete in their professional lives and who are dedicated to living in and contributing to the social, civic and cultural life of southeastern Michigan. Our graduates stay in Michigan and apply their talents to the challenges and opportunities the state faces.

At UM-Dearborn, we are particularly focused on preparing students to compete for the jobs of the 21st century. There is one thing we can say about Michiganís economic future with absolute certainty. We know that the future prosperity of our state will depend in large measure on how many engineers we will be able to educate and retain in the state. At UM-Dearborn, we have a larger fraction of students enrolled in engineering than any school in the state, with the exception of Michigan Tech. Our engineering programs are at the highest quality as measured by peer groups and the reports of magazines like U.S. News. Our software engineering ďgaming" program is ranked in the top ten in the United States, and our mechanical engineering program is ranked in the top five. And we provide engineering education more efficiently than most schools in the state, measured by the number of degrees we award compared to the number of our engineering faculty members.

In addition, our campus is making significant contributions to Michiganís economy through direct and applied research on some of the major challenges facing the auto industry. Our College of Engineering and Computer Science attracts postdoctoral students from around the world as well as millions of dollars in sponsored research and contracts. Our engineering school is truly a global leader in research on ďrapid prototypingĒ technologies, on materials research that will lead to lighter and more fuel efficient vehicles, and on coordinated research to support the advanced vehicle systems of the future.

While we are cognizant of the need to prepare our students to compete in a global economy in the next ten years, our focus is also on the longer term. We know that Michiganís future will be characterized by rapid and significant change. The education we offer at the University of Michigan-Dearborn is focused on preparing our students to lead the regionís businesses, schools, public agencies and communities for decades to come, no matter what changes may come or what challenges we face.

One of the most accurate measures of our impact on the local economy is found in the number of our graduates who are working in professional and leadership positions to build on the prosperity of southeastern Michigan. We have nearly 36,000 living alumni, with two-thirds of them living and working in the tri-county area. Their service represents a huge investment in the human capital of the stateís economic center, an investment that will continue to pay benefits for generations to come.

I want to touch on the important funding issues facing higher education in Michigan. While we have been focusing our efforts and defining our mission more clearly at UM-Dearborn over the past several years, we have also been challenged by the serious cuts in our state support. The cuts weíve endured in this decade, and the cuts that are threatened in the years ahead, have the potential to undermine the high-quality programs that characterize the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Most certainly the learning environment will be compromised, as will our ability to accommodate more students and to recruit and retain highly qualified faculty members.

While we understand the enormous economic challenges facing Michigan at this time, we believe that investment in higher education in general and in the mission of the University of Michigan-Dearborn in particular will pay dividends for the state many times over in the years ahead.

In our budget request submitted last fall, we listed several areas where investments in the work being done at UM-Dearborn could lead to major benefits for the state.

In recent years, we have added physical capacity to our campus, through the stateís capital outlay process. These new facilities will allow us to increase enrollment without incurring significant costs, except for those directly related to instruction. We have committed to robust enrollment growth over the next decade in response to regional needs and in response to the challenge presented by the Cherry Commission report last year. For Michigan to prosper, we need to increase the number of college graduates in the state. The University of Michigan-Dearborn is poised to help accomplish that goal, and we are laying plans to increase enrollment by 3 percent per year over the next decade.

But in order to meet that goal, we need to increase our instructional capacity by recruiting faculty members in a variety of fields where enrollment is growing. Those fields include accounting, finance, marketing, entrepreneurship, political science, criminal justice, and the natural sciences. Faculty members also are needed to conduct research on issues crucial to our region, including global competition and the restructuring of the economy; environmental issues; the changing social dynamics of southeastern Michigan; and the needs of early-childhood and K-12 teachers.

At UM-Dearborn, we are also committed to addressing the needs of Michigan for more graduates prepared to work in the health professions. Currently, the University has undergraduate programs in health policy, and undergraduate and graduate programs in health psychology, but we believe that we can expand our efforts by launching new initiatives and degree programs. We are exploring partnerships with hospitals and health-care systems in our region for clinical practices and experiences to reduce costs and increase the relevance of the training for our students. The start-up cost of these programs is significant and funds are needed both for faculty and equipment.

The University of Michigan-Dearborn also is one of the leaders in preparing teachers for careers in early-childhood education in the state of Michigan. Research continues to accumulate to show the importance of early-childhood education to long-term student achievement. Faculty members in our School of Education focus considerable attention to early childhood education, both in preparing students for careers in the field, and in conducting ground-breaking research on developing capacities among young children. Our campusís Child Development Center (CDC) is a critical element of the Universityís early-childhood teacher preparation programs. Our leadership in this field has helped us build a partnership with Oakwood Hospital to develop joint programs in pediatric rehabilitation and early-childhood education. With greater support from the state, we could enhance and enlarge that program.

Another significant focus of our efforts at UM-Dearborn has been to boost the skills of teachers in the K-12 system. Professors in our School of Education have worked with faculty members in our Department of Natural Sciences to reform curricula and develop new teaching methods that have the potential to transform the way science is taught throughout K-12 schools. In addition, faculty members in our mathematics department have become national leaders, through focused work in the Detroit and Southfield public schools, in developing effective methods for teaching math in middle schools, where many students get off track, undermining their potential achievement in later grades. Both of these areas, science and math, will be key to preparing Michiganís children to compete in a global economy.

With additional support from the state, we will be able to expand these programs and broaden their impact on schools and children across Michigan.

At UM-Dearborn, we are also committed to building leadership capacity not only among our students, but among all of those citizens who have been elected to serve their communities in our region. We launched the Institute for Local Government in 2003 to offer a variety of programs to help develop stronger civic leadership in the region. As the problems local governments are asked to solve become more complex, those serving as elected officials need background and continuing education delivered in a non-partisan and timely manner. We believe that the university is uniquely suited to perform this task.

Among other programs, the Institute for Local Government has offered a series to help new school board members understand their new responsibilities. That program has attracted members from more than half of the 80-plus school districts in the metropolitan region. The Institute also has developed similar programs for new village and city council members. We are committed to develop innovative programs that meet the needs of our communities in real time. In just one example, we were able to put together a program to help municipal leaders address the issue of hate crimes in their communities within a couple of weeks after a series of troubling incidents were reported in our region.

Over time, we expect the Institute for Local Government will have a very positive impact on the communities in southeastern Michigan, and it has drawn significant support from public officials and from private organizations. With base funding from the state, we would be able to sustain the program and build on it, keeping our promise to serve the needs of our region.

And finally, I want to mention our need for enhanced technology for research and teaching. UM-Dearborn enrolls a significant proportion of its students in the natural sciences and engineering. We need to ensure that our students and faculty members have laboratory facilities and instrumentation that is sophisticated and technologically advanced if we are to prepare them for careers in this world that expects nothing less. While we have added significant new buildings to our campus in recent years, we have struggled to equip those buildings properly. Many of our classrooms and computers need to be updated and equipped with modern digital equipment to properly train tomorrow's workforce. Michiganís economic prosperity will clearly depend on a technologically proficient workforce, and enhancing support for modern scientific inquiry is an investment in the future.

In conclusion, this is both an exciting and a challenging time for the University of Michigan-Dearborn, as we work to strengthen and enhance our traditional role of serving the needs of southeastern Michigan. Despite these difficult days for the stateís economy, I am pledging all of the resources of the University of Michigan-Dearborn--the excellence of the education we provide and the power of our applied intellectual resources--toward building a more prosperous southeastern Michigan.

We will need your support, and the support of your colleagues in the legislature and the other parts of the state government, to fulfill our ambitious and challenging mission.

I have supplied answers to your questions in our written testimony, and am ready to answer any questions you might have today.