A flood of changes to state higher education funding will go into effect next year, and officials say students can bank on paying a larger share of college costs.
The Tennessee Higher Education Commission is recommending a 7 percent tuition hike next fall for all four-year colleges and a 5 percent increase for community colleges. It's the sixth year of consecutive increases, and it could push the cost of a college degree up more than 40 percent since 2005.
Five-year change: 34.7%
2011 recommended increase: 7%
Five-year change: 39.5%
2011 recommended increase: 7%
State community college average
Five-year change: 34.2%
2011 recommended increase: 5%
Source: Tennessee Higher Education Commission
"This has been the standard for the last several years," said Terry Edmonds, whose daughter Julianna is a junior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. "Even though it's more difficult to pay ... that is a fact of life right now. I don't think it's different at any college or university."
State funding for higher education has fallen over the last decade, and the rate of decline has gotten worse as state tax revenues dwindled.
In 2011, the University of Tennessee system will face a $110 million shortfall when federal stimulus funding runs out, and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission has told schools to prepare to cut another 1 percent from their budgets next year, documents show.
UTC lost 13.8 percent in state money in the last three years, and another 1 percent cut this year will amount to $391,000, officials said.
And at the same time schools are losing state dollars, lawmakers are putting more pressure on colleges to perform with the money they are getting.
In the past, 60 percent of state funding was based on enrollment figures, documents show. But the Legislature passed a bill earlier this year that shifts how colleges and universities are funded.
The Complete College Tennessee Act requires colleges to compete for state dollars based on a variety of factors, such as how many students move from the freshman to sophomore year, how many students graduate and how many students transfer to their institution.
"This model is based on outcomes rather than enrollments," said Richard Brown, UTC vice chancellor of finance and operations. "We are well positioned to deal with performance."
But with lawmakers requiring higher performance and providing fewer dollars, schools must lean more on students to pay for academic programs and faculty salaries, UTC spokesman Chuck Cantrell said,
"It's not something we like," said Cantrell. "We would prefer to see tuition costs stay the same for students, but the revenue has to come from somewhere."
And it doesn't look as if the price of a college degree is going to level off any time soon.
On top of increases to base tuition costs, this month the Tennessee Higher Education Commission also recommended that schools charge more for specific degrees. Last year, the University of Tennessee put a higher price tag on business, nursing and engineering degrees.
Brown has said he is watching UT's experience and might be interested in mimicking the model soon. Many state higher education officials have said tiered tuition makes sense because some degrees are worth more than others.
A plan to increase those prices wouldn't be voted on until June, when final tuition costs are set by the UT system and the Tennessee Board of Regents, which oversees the state's community colleges.
Contact Joan Garrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6601.
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, ...