NASHVILLE — There will be no tuition increases for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and UT-Knoxville after the UT Board of Trustees on Friday approved a record fourth year of low tuition increases, with the two East Tennessee campuses remaining flat.
It's the first time in 34 years that any UT system university has not had a tuition increase.
UT system President Joe DiPietro said the support provided by Gov. Bill Haslam and state lawmakers along with trustees' commitment to low tuition made the lack of increases — something unseen since 1984 — possible.
Any fee increases at UTC would cover increased operating costs for specific programs.
Meanwhile, the separately governed Tennessee Board of Regents on Friday approved student-tuition increases of 2.7 percent for students attending community colleges, including Chattanooga State and Cleveland State.
Regents OK'd a 3 percent increase for those attending Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs).
But because Regents didn't approve any across-the-board increase in mandatory fees that students pay on top of tuition, board officials said the effective impact of combined tuition and fees is 2.4 to 2.6 percent for community college students taking 15 credit hours per semester and 2.8 percent for technical college students.
The Tennessee Higher Education Commission, which oversees both higher education systems, decreed earlier this year that tuition increases couldn't exceed 3 percent.
With the approval of state lawmakers, Haslam has in recent years reversed a decades-old trend in which state general government has annually underfunded the public share of higher education as determined by an academic formula.
The tuition increase at Board of Regents institutions is the second lowest in 27 years, according to the board, with last year's 2.6 percent increase at both community and technical colleges being the lowest percentage hike since 1991-92.
Regents also approved their annual wish list of major capital projects they'd like to see funded, beginning a lengthy process in which their priorities will be considered along with UT's and the six independent universities that formerly were part of the Board of Regents system.
Each of the lists is expected to be whittled down first by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, with the governor deciding what state revenues will allow.
The regents' nine-item list includes a proposed $17.5 million project for TCAT Athens and Cleveland State involving a McMinn County Higher Education and Training Facility. That's No. 3 on the list.
And coming in at No. 5 is a proposed $17.4 million new technical education building for Chattanooga State's TCAT.
For the UT system, Friday was the last day for the existing Board of Trustees as currently configured.
At Haslam's urging, state lawmakers slashed the size of the current 27-member board to just 12 members, including a non-voting student representative. Haslam argued it would make the board more focused and effective.
Critics questioned whether the governor was simply getting back at UT campuses for turning down a statewide facilities-outsourcing contract or if the move was tied to GOP lawmakers' attacks on what they consider to be too-liberal social policies at UT-Knoxville.
Haslam says none of those were factors and that the move was simply because the board was too unwieldy and not enough trustees were engaged.
While Senate Republicans gave Haslam what he sought, they dealt the Republican governor a political and personal a blow by refusing to confirm any sitting UT trustees he had proposed keeping on the board, including Knoxville businessman and long-time Haslam friend and board Vice Chair Raja Jubran.
Jubran spoke about work he and other trustees did to change perceptions that trustees were simply rubber stamps for administrators.
"Together as a board, we recognized that tax and tuition payers could no longer afford traditional passive roles for an industry that is so critical for the preparation of future leaders," Jubran said, according to a UT news release.
"It was essential that this board of trustees, with the support of the governor, challenge the status quo to inject more accountability, focus on real metrics, discuss openly the various taboo subjects and force critical cultural or traditional changes needed to ensure a sustainable overall business model."
Jubran offered up some advice to the new trustees coming in on July 1. They should ask "tough questions," demand transparency and insist on knowing "the good, the bad and the ugly," all while guarding values of academic excellence through the preservation of academic freedom.
He also urged them to remember that economic pressures on students are every bit as real as those facing universities and legislators.
"Trustees come and go," Jubran said. "Politicians come and go. Presidents and chancellors come and go. Our institution will always survive, as long as it delivers on its promises to the greater community."
DiPietro praised current trustees for their work and service.
"Today is a day of many different and mixed emotions for me as this board ends its term," he said. "I can't say enough about the engagement and support of members of this board. Nor can I thank you enough for your volunteer service to the University of Tennessee."