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VOL. 127 | NO. 129 | Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Tuition Hike Comes As Funding Restrictions Could Ease

By Bill Dries

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Tuition increases for the fall approved last week by the Tennessee Board of Regents come as years of tight funding by the state for colleges, universities and community colleges may be about to ease.

The first indication came this winter in Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s State of the State budget address in which he devoted a large portion of the speech to higher education, outlined new capital spending for higher education and cautioned universities to keep tuition hikes to a minimum.

The latest indication was in last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on health care reform and its findings on the impact to states and their Medicaid programs.

The Tennessee Board of Regents approved Friday, June 29, a tuition increase starting with the fall semester at the state’s 46 higher education institutions it governs.

The board, which governs all state universities except the University of Tennessee system, approved tuition and fee rate increases between 3.4 percent and 7.2 percent during a meeting at Southwest Tennessee Community College.

The tuition hike includes rates at the University of Memphis, which will go up 7 percent. The in-state rates for students at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law will increase 7.3 percent with the fall semester.

Students at Southwest Tennessee Community College will see a tuition increase of 4.8 percent. And tuition at the Tennessee Technology Centers, including the one in Memphis, will go up 6.2 percent per trimester.

University of Memphis President Dr. Shirley Raines noted state funding to the U of M has been cut $41.7 million in the past four years with another $1.8 million in funding cuts for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

“It is unfortunate that our students must continue to bear the responsibility for closing the gap in state funding and our funding requirements,” Raines said Friday in a written statement.

Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan said as state funding has declined, enrollment at the schools has gone up.

“It is never easy to ask a student to pay more year after year,” Morgan said. “Today’s actions reflect an unfortunate but expected continued shift of funding responsibility from the state to our students.”

The funding shift has been a fact of life for years in Tennessee higher education as state government prepared for a rough end to federal stimulus funding and then a financial wallop of hundreds of millions of dollars estimated to be the impact of the Affordable Care Act.

The tuition hikes came the same week the court’s ruling upheld the health care reform law and in the ruling held that states cannot be forced to expand their Medicaid programs.

Haslam said that part of the ruling was “significant” but said he is still evaluating what the finding will mean for the state’s bottom line.

In his February budget proposal, Haslam included $264 million in capital outlays for higher education including $13.2 million for the University of Memphis. Of that, $8 million was for building maintenance on the Memphis campus including the planning and design of a new biology facility.

The remainder was for the second year of the university’s operation of the old Lambuth University in Jackson, Tenn.

Higher education in Tennessee has shifted to a goal of not only enrolling more students but graduating them with at least an associate’s degree. Completion is the standard by which the state evaluates higher education.

The highest percentage increase across the Regents system was the 7.2 percent tuition hike at East Tennessee State University. The lowest increase was 3.4 percent at Austin Peay State University.

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