Haslam budget brings higher ed happiness

After last year’s disappointing withdrawal of a planned budget increase for Tennessee’s public colleges and universities, University of Tennessee officials say they are pleased with the substantial increases proposed for next year by Gov. Bill Haslam.

Further from Richard Locker:

Officials from both the University of Tennessee and Board of Regents systems say they expect to hold student tuition increases for the 2015-16 school year to the zero to four percent range suggested in December by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission on the condition the governor was able to fully fund the budget THEC requested.

The governor’s budget plan, presented to the state legislature Monday night, does recommend full funding for higher education’s outcomes-based funding formula, plus about $6 million of the $10 million increase for “non-formula” funding THEC requested. The “formula” funding essentially covers operation of undergraduate campuses while the non-formula money pays for UT’s medical school in Memphis, its statewide agriculture extension service and research centers and public service missions.

In addition, Haslam also proposed to pay for about 55 percent of the costs of higher education employee compensation improvements, with the rest to be funded from university sources like tuition and fees.

Charles M. Peccolo, the UT System’s treasurer and chief financial officer, said that overall, “the University of Tennessee is really pleased with what Gov. Haslam has recommended for fiscal year 2016.

If you look at what the recommendations are for our formula units -– our three undergraduate campuses at Knoxville, Martin and Chattanooga — he’s recommending exactly what the Tennessee Higher Education Commission has for the outcomes-based formula calculations. So that’s as good as we could expect.

“In addition, the the non-formula units, which in our case is our medical school in Memphis, our agriculture extension services and research centers and our public service mission, are provided improvement dollars in line with what THEC recommended,” Peccolo said Monday night.

“Not only that but we also get improvement dollars for university employees compensation and that’s something our president has put at the top of his list every year as far as what our priorities are in trying to address our employee compensation gaps that we’ve had. So overall we are extremely pleased with what the governor has recommended.”

The budget also fully funds the major maintenance requests for colleges and universities submitted last in December by THEC and several new-construction building projects. For UT, that includes a new $99.5 million science laboratory facility at the corner of Cumberland Avenue and 13th Street currently occupied by a parking lot and three old houses. The other major UT project is land acquisition in Hardeman County for a new West Tennessee 4-H Center to be operated by the UT Institute for Agriculture.