Gov. Bill Haslam eyes reform for higher ed

Gov. Bill Haslam eyes reform for higher ed

June 22nd, 2012 by Perla Trevizo in News

Gov. Bill Haslam, left, talks with UT President Joe DiPietro during a board of trustees meeting Thursday at the University of Tennessee.

Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Times Free Press.


UTC -- 7.4 percent

UT -- 8.3 percent

Source: UT system board of trustees

POLL: Are college tuition costs too high?

KNOXVILLE -- Gov. Bill Haslam says he is setting off on a mission to re-examine higher education.

On Thursday, in front of the University of Tennessee system's board of trustee, Haslam said he'll launch the initiative July 10 and the statewide effort will include understanding the cost structure of the higher-ed system, how much a student pays, how much the state pays and what is the real cost of educating that student.

There also will be a statewide "tour" in which an appointed committee will meet with employers to determine how to better prepare students for the workforce.

Haslam said he'll launch the mission during a meeting at the governor's residence with board members from the UT and Tennessee Board of Regents systems, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and legislative leaders.

On Wednesday, Senate and House Democrats called on Haslam, a Republican, to call a special legislative session and use state surpluses to offset college tuition hikes.

Democrats say state revenues so far this fiscal year are about $225 million above earlier estimates. They want to use $78 million to offset planned tuition and fee increases -- 7.4 percent at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and about 4 percent at Cleveland and Chattanooga State community colleges.

In Knoxville, Haslam told reporters that a special session is not the right answer to fixing the need for higher tuition rates approved Thursday by the UT board and those set to be voted on by the Board of Regents. Such a move is "short-sighted," he said.

"To have a special session to talk just about those one or two things is like considering a few issues in a vacuum when you have a lot of challenges," he said. "I'm not certain it makes sense."

Haslam said the state faces many needs, including money for K-12 education, a self-imposed hospital assessment fee that, if removed, would cost the state more than $300 million and a potential increase of $200 million if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the federal health care overhaul.

Joe DiPietro, UT system president, said whether the state has a special session to figure out a use for the surplus money is "a matter of legislative intent and the governor has to be involved in that. We don't know whether it would be one-time money or recurring money."

The Board of Regents had no comment on the Democrats call for a special session, according to the system's spokeswoman Monica Greppin.

State appropriations to colleges and universities have fallen in the last 30 years and a greater share of the institutions' revenues now come from student tuition and fees. Haslam said he would like to see the declines in state appropriations stop and "look for a way to grow that back."

Trustee George Cates told Haslam that, for a long time, there's been a shortage of commitment to education in the state.

Haslam said there's a need for a cultural adjustment in the state in terms of the value of education.

"Every governor I can find for last 100 years has said, 'I'm going to be the education governor,'" he said. "Yet we still find ourselves in the 40s of the 50 states in K-12 [rankings]."