published Saturday, January 31st, 2009

University of Tennessee to keep tuition cap on for now

By DUNCAN MANSFIELD

Associated Press Writer

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The University of Tennessee has decided to keep a cap on tuition in place, while the Tennessee Board of Regents may delay or limit plans to remove its tuition cap next fall.

“It could vary with what UT has done from virtually nothing in this next year to full implementation,” Regents Chancellor Charles Manning said Friday. “I can’t imagine full implementation, though, quite frankly, because it does raise tuition of full-time students considerably.”

Manning said Regents schools may decide to remove the tuition cap in phases “over a number of years,” depending on the schools’ revenue needs after tallying state budget cuts and federal money coming from President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package.

While UT won’t touch the tuition cap now, UT President John Petersen said the university will impose new fees for dropping courses to “motivate students to maintain stable class loads.”

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The state’s relatively unique tuition cap policy sets the maximum price for tuition at 12 credit hours per semester, even if students take many more hours than that. If the cap were lifted, students would be charged for every credit hour they take.

Both the UT and Regents public college systems considered removing the cap as a management tool to ensure students weren’t locked out of classes filled by students who dropped them later without penalty.

In December, the Regents board voted to lift the cap this fall for its 180,000-student system of six universities, 13 two-year colleges and 26 tech centers. UT’s trustees were considering a similar move for its five-campus, 46,000-student system, but hadn’t voted yet.

The proposal met broad opposition, however, from students and Gov. Phil Bredesen, who by his office is chairman of both the Regents and UT boards.

Bredesen told The Associated Press two weeks ago that he feared lifting the cap would produce a “massive tuition increase.”

Three days later, Petersen wrote the UT board that since “we currently lack sufficient data to predict the impact of such a change on student behavior, we do not plan to implement uncapped tuition now.”

Petersen’s letter, first reported by The Knoxville News Sentinel on Friday, said UT would continue to study how to lift the tuition cap in a “revenue neutral” way so it wouldn’t hurt students.

“We would absolutely not ’double-dip’ on raising tuition/fee revenues,” he wrote. “With sufficient data, we will review our options. Meanwhile, we will consider alternatives ...”

One alternative is a fee for dropping courses past an established deadline. Petersen said UT administrators will propose imposing such a fee, though how much hasn’t been decided, as part of the 2009-2010 budget.

“Over time, we may find no advantage to a revenue-neutral model for uncapped tuition and may maintain existing structure with a fee for course dropping,” Petersen concluded.

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