The powerless "student governments," or assemblies, of Michigan’s 15 state universities are well known playgrounds for the left. This week they’re serving a different role, playing handmaiden to a state government establishment desperate for a tax hike that will allow it to keep its perks and privileges.

On Wednesday, these university assemblies are planning to haul students to Lansing on chartered buses to demonstrate and lobby in the Capitol against budget cuts which, in the context of the current budget debate, is a code phrase for "support tax hikes."

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Faculty and college administrators are being asked to turn a blind eye to students who skip class to participate. Apparently some are cooperating or even planning to join the rally themselves. The plan is reminiscent of the actions of By Any Means Necessary, a group that opposed the 2006 Michigan Civil Rights Initiative. During its campaign, BAMN pulled Detroit high school students from class and bused them to Lansing to disrupt state Board of Canvassers hearings. (The college students don’t plan to disrupt anything, though.)

The sad part is that many of the students who will participate in this political theater have no idea that they’re being used by the privileged class of government, school and university employees who need a $1.5 billion tax hike to prop up their own unsustainable compensation and benefits packages. Instead, these students sincerely believe they are striking a blow for "lower tuition."

Here’s the dirty little secret about higher education appropriations and tuition rates: There’s very little relationship between them, as documented by the nation’s leading chronicler of university dysfunction, Professor Richard Vedder of Ohio University, also a Mackinac Center adjunct scholar. In a recent Mackinac Center study Vedder wrote: "Empirical evidence we have gathered shows that a large majority of new state appropriations go to increase total university expenditures — not to lowering the rate of tuition increases."

Dr. Vedder explained in a related Op-Ed, "Instead of mainly lowering tuition, increased state higher education subsidies have funded vast university bureaucracies, higher faculty salaries and luxury amenities."

So students getting bused to Lansing to (realize it or not) lobby for tax hikes are barking up the wrong tree. What they should protest is the abject failure of the political establishment to impose any measure of cost containment or accountability on universities.

No law of nature requires college tuition and university budgets to rise at twice or three times the inflation rate. They do so because they are insulated from market incentives and unconstrained by any political accountability. Why contain costs when Lansing and Washington will just send more money — and through college loan programs, allow you to extract more from students and their families, too?

In consequence, to sustain their own fat salaries, gold-plated facilities and bloated bureaucracies, the Baby Boomers in charge of university establishments have imposed crushing debt burdens on the young members of the Millennial generation. Frankly, what’s been perpetrated on these hardworking, creative and talented young people is immoral.

Now these young people are being manipulated by their exploiters into lobbying for policies that will benefit the exploiters but not the students. That too is immoral, and if students protest anything next week it should be the way they've been used and abused by their privileged elders.


Jack McHugh is a legislative analyst for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.

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