Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says he'll be an active member of the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees and will try to minimize further cuts to higher education.
Haslam was named of the Board of Trustees chairman Friday during the board's meeting at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
"I tip my hat to the UT system, who made incredible adjustments during a very difficult time," he told the board.
The UT system has lost more than $100 million in state appropriations since fiscal 2008. The fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.
But Haslam said the economy is getting better and he hopes severe cuts won't be necessary.
"It's a very difficult budget, but not completely bloody, if you will," he said.
Also Friday, UT President Joe DiPietro said the lack of employee raises for the last three years has become a critical issue.
"The key here," he told the board, "is that we are starting to experience issues of retention and we don't want that to happen."
Haslam told reporters later that state employee raises is one of the things "we want to work out as soon as we can." But the loss of federal
stimulus funds, which ended last year, must be factored in, he said.
Board members talked about implementation of the Complete College Tennessee Act, which requires colleges to compete for state dollars based on a variety of factors, such as how many students move from freshman to sophomore year, how many graduate and how many transfer to another institution.
The also discussed the revised operating budget for the current year, which includes a tuition increase of 9 percent instead of 8.5 percent, elimination of state-mandated employee bonuses and increased carryovers of 2010 stimulus appropriations.
"We literally have over $1 billion less to work with this year compared to last year, as we've lost federal funds," he said. "[But] if we are going to have a great university system [and] state employees, we can't continue to ask them to go without raises."
One of his goals for higher education, he said, is for more Tennesseans to get college degrees.
About 21 percent of Tennesseans over 25 years old have college degrees, compared to about 30 percent nationwide, he said.
"We have given the board a hard hand to play," he said. "We've cut back on funding and then said, 'We want you to graduate more students and raise the standards.' That's a hard combination."
Haslam also discussed a proposal to make the HOPE scholarship available for summer school classes, which DiPietro said he fully supports. Now HOPE is only available for classes in fall and spring semesters.
John Foy, a trustee from Chattanooga, said he was pleased with the statements from Haslam and DiPietro.
"We all recognize there are hurdles we have to overcome and I think everybody is focused on overcoming them," he said.