Asking the tough questions

HOUGHTON – The Undergraduate Student Government and Graduate Student Government at Michigan Technological University jointly hosted a discussion with Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, and Dr. Kirk Schott, a representative of Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, at the university’s Great Lakes Research Center Monday. The purpose of the meeting was to look at issues that, as students, heavily impact them – higher education in Michigan. During the question and answer session, students from the USG and GSG asked questions regarding the state of higher education in Michigan and local concerns.

The USG held events on Nov. 12, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday designed to call attention to the rising levels of student debt as tuition increases and state appropriations decrease. Michigan, Schott said, has the sixth highest tuition rates out of all 50 states. Dianda and Schott were asked to address this issue, including whether Michigan had any plans to alleviate the financial burdens of students.

“I wish I could promise you all that next year tuition will be lower and everyone at Michigan Tech will make more money. But that isn’t realistic,” Schott said. “We’ve had kind of a bad stretch in the economy in Michigan and unfortunately our students have paid the price.”

Dianda agreed that tuition is a problem in Michigan. Although there is no specific plan in place at this time to reduce tuition or increase state appropriations, he said these things are being seriously discussed. He proposed a system that looks at each university individually and assesses its private funding to determine the level of state appropriations it would receive.

“U of M has such a vast amount of money that is there, where we look at Michigan Tech and they might not have that principle amount of money,” Dianda said. “So I think everything is going to have to be looked at on an individual basis.”

A bill was recently proposed to offer students who graduate and stay to work in Michigan a tax credit equivalent to half of their accumulated student debt. Dianda and Schott agreed that the bill would both help students and alleviate the brain drain they both believe is occurring in Michigan.

“We do have a brain drain going on in Michigan. We are exporting our youth out of these wonderful universities – we understand that,” Dianda said.

However, he cautioned that the bill would have to contain stipulations that require graduates receiving the credit to work in Michigan for a minimum number of years. Dianda also addressed the federal issue of foreign students who have difficulty obtaining visas to stay and work in the United States after graduation.

“We need to, as Michigan, come up with a solution to this. The solution needs to be on a federal level. Michigan needs to make a statement to the federal government to encourage our congressman and our senators who represent the United States when somebody graduates from higher ed(ucation), the day they walk across the aisle and get their diploma they should get a green card. Done,” he said. “We are losing all this talent when they go back to other countries.”

Other questions centered on issues such as the importance of science, technology, math and engineering fields in both higher education and K-12 and local concerns such as Medicaid expansion. Both returned to the same solution for many issues Michigan faces.

“More jobs. That’s the solution to a whole lot of problems in this state,” Schott said.

Dianda noted the job creation that can be seen in the Copper Country alone based on things like the Michigan Tech SmartZone.

“I do believe that Michigan Tech is on the right path. They’re going down the path of STEM,” Dianda said. “STEM will be the future, it’s what the state of Michigan and a lot of our universities like Michigan Tech are doing and we have to continueJust the things I see here at Michigan Tech with the SmartZone, looking at people that graduated with chemistry working on yeast production for a growing industry in Michigan – the different microbreweries that we have. So that’s going to be future employment here with that issue.”