As the University of Tennessee system begins to exhaust its one-time federal stimulus funding, UT interim President Jan Simek said it faces an unprecedented budgetary crisis.
More than $66 million will be slashed from the system's existing budget in 2011, and students can expect larger and fewer classes, rigid scheduling requirements and fees for dropping courses, Dr. Simek said.
"It is a crisis," said Dr. Simek, speaking Monday to a Times Free Press editorial board. "That is a major chunk of our funding no matter how you look at it ... We will look different."
Officials at UT schools are being told to improve student retention and graduation rates with fewer resources.
Gov. Phil Bredesen and officials with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission have said funding for higher education should be revamped and based more on graduation rates than overall student enrollment.
THEC officials plans to unveil a new funding model in January when they announce the statewide master plan for higher education.
"We are going to come out of the efforts on higher education reform and reorganization with much greater accountability for what we are getting done, particularly in terms of student learning," said UTC Chancellor Roger Brown.
Schools within the UT system will be forced to be much more efficient in years to come, since student enrollment is growing while faculty and staff positions are being trimmed, officials said.
"The university will not be in the same place," said Dr. Simek, who spoke Monday afternoon to university and community leaders during a UTC campus visit. "We will not have the same ability to offer services across the board."
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has lost more than 90 faculty and staff positions since last year but welcomed a record-breaking freshman class this fall.
UTC enrolled more than 10,000 this fall and has a goal of reaching a student population of 12,000, Dr. Brown said.
Dr. Simek said many part-time teachers, often relied on to teach introductory and general education courses, may be eliminated, requiring schools to offer larger and fewer classes. Administrators also must begin moving some courses to times when they have not been offered before, such as nights and weekends, he said.
Shifting financial resources to improve student services, especially academic advising, will become critical, he said.
"We will have to reallocate," Dr. Simek said. "As we reduce the number of courses available, we may have to reduce them even further in order to put resources into the advising."
While in the past students have been able to use their time in college to dabble in courses not related to their degrees or explore different areas of study, future students won't have the same luxury, he said.
"One of the great things about a university is that students can come in and explore intellectually a wide array of things that they have never been exposed to," Dr. Simek said. "But that may not be quite as possible in the future as it has been in the past. Students may have to focus a little bit better on making sure they take those classes when they are offered. That will be the cost."
Traditional student behavior such as course shopping -- signing up for more classes than needed and then dropping courses that are difficult before receiving academic penalty -- must be curtailed, he said.
Dr. Simek said he wants the UT system board to consider imposing a fee on students who drop courses.
"The shopping process that is going on is not going to be encouraged," he said.