published Friday, March 27th, 2009

Tennessee: Regents debate fee hike

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NASHVILLE — Members of the Tennessee Board of Regents debated student fee increases Thursday after a student trustee pleaded with the board to reconsider the removal of a 12-hour tuition cap.

In December, the board voted to eliminate the 12-hour tuition cap, which allows students registered for 12 hours of classes to take additional classes for free.

Gionni Carr, a student from the University of Memphis, said Thursday the injection of millions in federal stimulus dollars should remove the need to overhaul colleges’ hourly fee structure.

Gov. Phil Bredesen announced this week that $470 million in stimulus money would be distributed to Tennessee higher education over the next three years.

“We made the decision to remove the tuition cap when we were in a totally different environment. We, the students, feel this decision should be rescinded,” said Mr. Carr, 23, speaking on behalf of the student government association presidents in the Board of Regents system.

When Mr. Carr’s motion went for a vote, however, no one voiced support.

Since the board members voted to remove the 12-hour tuition cap, Gov. Bredesen has called the decision a “back-door tuition increase.”

Leaders in the UT system decided not to remove the tuition cap at their schools after discussing it in committee meetings.

Mr. Carr, who showed board members YouTube videos and photos of students protesting tuition and fee increases in Nashville, said a fee increase for full-time students would hurt students and slow graduation rates.

Visibly disappointed by the failure of his proposal after presenting a 15-minute speech, Mr. Carr said student opinion essentially has been brushed off by college administrators.

Howard Roddy, a Board of Regents member from Chattanooga, thanked Mr. Carr for his input and said he was concerned that increased costs for full-time students would hurt graduation rates, which are already poor.

“I would recommend coming up with a solution that would ensure students can graduate in four years not five,” he said.

Board of Regents Chancellor Charles Manning said removing the 12-hour cap will require students to pay more to graduate on time, but it will not prohibit graduation in four years.

While students are very concerned about fee and tuition increases, Dr. Manning said falling state appropriations has forced the Board of Regents to rely more on students.

In the past 10 years, colleges in Tennessee have received less state funding than nearly all other states in the Southeast, records show. From 1999 to 2009, state appropriations increased by 29.7 percent in Tennessee, while the average increase in Southeastern states was 56.3 percent.

The average increase of state appropriations nationally was 48.5 percent, according to Board of Regents documents.

Robert P. Thomas, vice chairman of the board, said removing the 12-hour tuition cap is an issue of fairness to part-time students and is not intended to raise revenue.

  • Gionni Carr, a student from the University of Memphis
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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