published Saturday, June 18th, 2011

UTC eyes 9.9 percent tuition increase

UTC officials say four years of budget cuts amid growing enrollment have forced the school to significantly raise tuition again, this year by possibly 9.9 percent.

Without the added revenue, students will face graduation delays and class shortages because of a lack of instructors, said Richard Brown, vice chancellor of finance and operations at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

“We never really like to increase tuition,” Brown said. “The reality of life is that, in order to deliver the higher quality for students and to ensure they can graduate in four years, we need some increased support.”

Students say they are used to climbing tuition. Since 2008, the price tag for a full-time, in-state UTC student has jumped 14.2 percent.

“The state and country are going through a difficult time. For a lot of students, their finances aren’t in the best of shape either,” said Shalin Shah, president of the Student Government Association at UTC. “In the grand scheme of things, I think they are taking care of the students, and they are looking out for our interest.”

The University of Tennessee board will vote next week on increasing tuition at UTC from $3,031 to $3,359 per semester. Also on the table is a 12 percent tuition increase at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and a 9.9 percent increase at UT Martin.

The UT system is following the Tennessee Board of Regents, which last week upped its tuition rates anywhere from 9.3 percent to 11.8 percent at state community colleges such as Chattanooga State and Cleveland State.

Still, increased reliance on tuition dollars to float universities has sparked some concern. Gov. Bill Haslam, who is chairman for both the UT and the Board of Regents boards, said he plans to meet with university officials to make sure they cut what they can.

“We have a major issue around keeping college affordable for middle-class families in Tennessee. The universities ... need to make sure they’re doing everything they can to keep costs down,” Haslam said.

“But we also have to be realistic,” he added. “Part of their problem is we’re giving them less funding as a percentage of their budget than we used to, and it’s quite a bit less.”

In the last few years, UTC officials said they have trimmed down to the bone. Both UT and Board of Regents systems were asked to cut an additional 2 percent from their budgets beginning July 1, and UTC’s part of the cut amounts to $779,400.

If this year’s state budget passes as is, the school will have lost $13.2 million from its $100 million budget in four years.

The cuts have hurt the school’s ability to add classes and teachers at a time when incoming classes are growing. This year, UTC officials are expecting a record freshman enrollment, pushing total enrollment to 11,000, a 4 percent increase.

“By this additional investment, it allows us to hire enough faculty and support for students,” Brown said. “I have got to make sure I have enough faculty on the ground.”

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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