published Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Tennessee: Board expands, extends UTC regional discount

After a heated debate among trustees and administrators, the UT board approved a proposal Wednesday that allows North Georgia residents to attend UTC graduate programs at an in-state rate.

The proposal, made by Chattanooga trustee John Foy, came as a shock to several board members, who had not planned on expanding the regional discount program.

Trustees were scheduled to vote only on a one-year extension of the regional discount for undergraduate students.

"We were asked to vote on something without sufficient information," said Charles Wharton, a trustee who voted against the amendment.

UT board members ended a day of wrangling over budget numbers and campus proposals by deciding on tuition increases and academic cuts.

Jan Simek, UT system interim president, said 300 people will be laid off in the next two years as the system exhausts federal stimulus aid and approaches a $66 million "financial cliff."

Of layoffs, more than 200 people will be cut from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Only one position will be eliminated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Chancellor Roger Brown said.

In system administration, between 15 and 20 filled positions will be trimmed in the next two years, Dr. Simek said.

"We are not safe. There is no question about that," he said.

DISCOUNT DEBATE

The discussion over expansion of the regional tuition discount program began when Mr. Foy proposed amending a one-year extension of the undergraduate discount to include graduate programs.

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UTC generated more than $315,000 in revenue last year by enrolling North Georgia students. Mr. Foy, along with several other Chattanooga representatives, said the school could earn more money by opening the program to graduate students.

"Forty percent of the families in those border counties work in Chattanooga," Dr. Brown said. "We believe it is a good policy. It builds economic development in the Chattanooga region."

Mr. Wharton, a trustee on the finance committee, said he is concerned the proposal was made off-the-cuff and that there was no data proving it could generate revenue. Other board members, who ended up supporting the proposal, said they are "philosophically opposed" to a regional discount.

"We have to become more and more of a tuition-based operation," said UT board Vice Chairman Jim Murphy. "It is not right for the people from the state of Tennessee to subsidize people from Georgia."

Dr. Simek, who was given authority to veto the decision if he discovers it will not generate revenue, said he is concerned about using cheap tuition to draw graduate students.

"Graduate programs need to grow on their quality," he said. "We want to be careful that programs aren't attractive because they are cheap ... This idea came to us not very well developed."

Jim Hall, a trustee from Chattanooga, seemed visibly frustrated by comments made in opposition to the measure.

He said Chattanooga officials had tried to get the proposal on the agenda but were told no by Dr. Simek and his staff.

If the proposal had not passed Wednesday it would have been another year before it could have been voted on, he said.

"Come down to Chattanooga and visit and help us vision for our future," Mr. Hall said to Dr. Simek. "It is not good for us to feel our growth is being restricted."

Dr. Simek and UTC officials plan to study which graduate programs should be opened for a regional discount over the next month. Mr. Foy and Mr. Hall want to open up master's degree programs in education and business.

The decision will need to be made quickly since UTC wants to begin recruiting students for programs in the fall, Dr. Simek said.

TUITION INCREASES

Tuition increases (not including other fees) vary by campus:

- UT Knoxville -- 9 percent, or $490 for in-state undergraduate and $564 graduate

- UT Chattanooga -- 7 percent, or $296 for in-state undergraduate and $354 for graduate

- UT Martin -- 7 percent, or $308 for in-state undergraduate and $368 for graduate

- UT Space Institute -- 9 percent, or $564 for in-state graduate

- UT Health Science Center -- 10 percent with amounts varying for each discipline

- Veterinary Medicine -- 20 percent, or $2,908 for in-state

Source: University of Tennessee

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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