Gov. Bill Haslam calls conference on higher education

Gov. Bill Haslam calls conference on higher education

July 5th, 2012 by The Commercial Appeal in News

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam

Photo by Tracey Trumbull /Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE -- Gov. Bill Haslam will assemble business, legislative and higher education leaders for a meeting at the governor's residence next week to kick off his review of the state's college and university systems.

The meeting, set for Tuesday, comes days after the University of Tennessee board of trustees and the Tennessee Board of Regents approved tuition and fee increases on the state's campuses. The hikes are as high as 8 percent for the 2012-13 school year, which opens next month.

After spending much of his first year-and-a-half in office on K-12 education, the governor said in May that he will focus on higher education for the rest of this year. He said he has a goal of submitting at least a first round of recommendations to the Legislature when it reconvenes in January.

Haslam has said he wants to explore such topics as higher education financing, construction needs and "governance" -- the administrative structure of the two college and university systems and the campuses themselves.

But it's been unclear what form the review will take, whether it would operate through the current governing boards, for example, or involve a temporary commission to examine issues from the outside.

An invitation sent from the governor's office to members of the UT board, the Board of Regents and others sheds some light on at least the initial meeting.

"Governor Haslam is kicking off his review of post-secondary education in Tennessee by convening higher education and business leaders from across the state," the invitation states. "The meeting will also feature presentations by three leading higher education policy experts and the Governor will moderate discussions after each presentation."

The governor's press office said this week that, along with the top administrators of the two college and university systems, the invitation list also includes the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association (which serves 35 private, nonprofit institutions), the speakers of the state House and Senate, the chairmen of the House and Senate finance and education committees and officers of the Tennessee Business Roundtable and Tennessee Chamber of Commerce.

While state appropriations for K-12 public education have increased steadily during the recession, they actually have declined for higher education, including another 2 percent cut in general appropriations for the upcoming school year. As a result, tuition and fees have increased steadily as students and their families pick up an increasing share of the costs of their college educations.

Through the mid-1980s, the state paid about 70 percent of what its public colleges and universities cost to operate. By the 2011-12 school year, the state's share was down to 34 percent for the universities and 40 percent at the community colleges, according to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

From 1993, when many of last year's college freshmen were born, through the last school year, tuition and mandatory fees paid by in-state students on the state's public campuses rose by an average 340 percent.

Over the last two weeks, the two governing boards have approved tuition and fee increases of 8.3 percent at UT in Knoxville, 7.4 percent at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and 5 percent at UT-Martin and between 4 and 5 percent at community colleges.