News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
NASHVILLE, Tenn.), July 22, 2013 — State Senator Jim Summerville (R-Dickson) has announced plans to file legislation in the Tennessee General Assembly to freeze tuition at the current rates at state colleges and universities. The announcement comes after the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) and the University of Tennessee (UT) system recently adopted hikes in tuition ranging between 3 to 6 percent.
“The current increases are an outrage, especially in light of this year’s increase in appropriations to these higher education systems,” said Senator Summerville. “No other governmental department consistently raises their costs to the taxpayers at such a high rate on an annual basis.”
The General Assembly approved a budget providing a $108.6 million increase for higher education, including $65.7 million in additional funds for the Tennessee Board of Regents, $37.6 million for the University of Tennessee system and $5.2 million for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. A 2010-2011 study by the Bloomberg News College Board found that 56 percent of public four-year college students average $23,800 in student loans upon graduation.
“Over the past decade, tuition at public colleges and universities has increased by an astounding 62 percent,” added Summerville. “These ever-increasing costs lead students to take out more loans, thus saddling themselves with debt that can take almost a lifetime to pay back.”
Summerville said his legislation, the “Tennessee College Students’ Tuition Relief Act,” is currently in the drafting stage but will freeze tuition for several years. He said bill will include cost reduction recommendations to help the state’s higher education system realize efficiencies. This could include top-heavy administrative office expenses and excessive salary packages for college coaches.
“Non-instructional cost is a good place to start in looking for savings,” added Summerville. “If we are going to meet our goals of raising our college graduation rates, we must get a handle on the rising costs. This legislation is a big step in the right direction to accomplish this.”
The Tennessee branch of an online university was launched Tuesday with a $30 million budget, including $5 million in state funding authorized by initially-reluctant legislators at the urging of Gov. Bill Haslam.
Western Governors University-Tennessee will target adult students seeking a new career, particularly those who have done some college classes but never graduated, Haslam said. He and WGU President Robert W. Mendenhall signed a “memorandum of understanding” to start the program at a news conference.
WGU will offer bachelor and master degrees in four areas – business, K-12 teacher education, information technology and health professions, including nursing.
Knox County School Superintendent Jim McIntyre, who serves on WGU Tennessee Advisory Board, said it offers “an opportunity for great strides in the future” by providing “a cadre of very well-prepared teachers to add to our workforce.”
ATLANTA (AP) — A private college in northwest Georgia is suing Tennessee’s higher education commission in a dispute over billboard advertising.
Berry College says in the federal lawsuit that the Tennessee agency has threatened to sue the school if it continues to advertise in that state without registering and paying fees of more than $20,000 a year.
The Rome, Ga.-based school says it competes with Tennessee colleges and has advertised on at least one billboard in the state. It depicts two students in front of a college building with Berry’s name, website and the phrase “26,000 acres of opportunity.”
The Tennessee Higher Education Commission has threatened other schools with such requirements in order to reduce competition from out-of-state institutions, Berry maintains in the lawsuit. Other schools have removed their ads over the issue rather than risk civil and criminal sanctions, the school’s lawyers say.
Scott Sloan, the Tennessee agency’s general counsel, said Tuesday that agency officials have yet to review the lawsuit and had no immediate comment.
A law that’s central to the dispute is Tennessee’s Postsecondary Education Authorization Act (PEAA), which Berry says is being improperly used to keep out-of-state schools from advertising. The act requires postsecondary educational institutions “desiring to operate” in Tennessee to apply for authorization from the state agency, which involves the fees, the lawsuit states.
The Tennessee agency, Berry maintains, “has pursued this unconstitutional enforcement of the PEAA so as to protect in-state colleges and universities from fair competition by out-of-state institutions.”
“The overall effect of the Act, then, is to tax and chill the free speech rights of Berry and other out-of-state schools as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, in addition to violating their rights under the dormant Commerce Clause,” Berry’s complaint states. “The effect of the PEAA is to unconstitutionally burden and tax the free exercise of truthful commercial speech by Berry and other out-of-state colleges and universities.”
The lawsuit was filed this week in U.S. District Court in northern Georgia.
Lawyers for the college, about 70 miles northwest of Atlanta, are asking the court to block Tennessee from imposing fees or fines or taking legal action against the school for advertising in the state.
The latest bill to grant special tuition discounts at state colleges and universities appears headed for passage over protests that such measures are driving up costs to others.
In a Senate floor speech, Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, ran through a list of tuition discounts that began in 1957, when dependents of military servicemen killed in action were given a discount.
The bill at hand (SB208, as amended) says that 25 members of the Tennessee State Guard, a volunteer organization that supplements the National Guard in Tennessee, can attend one college course per year without any tuition. It also says that military veterans moving into Tennessee after an honorable discharge can receive lower in-state tuition rates.
While all discount beneficiaries, including children of state employees and teachers, are “worthy recipients,” Gardenhire said, the cumulative effect over the years has been to eliminate tuition revenue from the higher education system and drive up costs for others.
His sentiments were somewhat endorsed by Sens. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, and Jim Summerville, R-Dickson.
“Before you can subsidize one group, you have to plunder another,” said Niceley, quoting a French author. “I guess it’s up to us to decide who we’re going to plunder.”
Summerville lamented acts of “fiscal piracy” within the state budget process.
But Summerville and Niceley both voted for the bill, which sponsor Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, said was different from most tuition discount measures in that the State Guard free courses — estimated to involve about $37,300 per year after amendments — would be covered by general taxpayer dollars and not borne by higher education’s budget.
Gardenhire abstained. Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, cast the sole no vote, saying he did so because the bill didn’t go far enough. Those serving in the Tennessee State Guard, Henry said, should be entitled to just as big a tuition discount as those in “federal service.”
The House is expected to give final approval to the bill this week.
A proposed “Higher Education Equality Act,” designed to end most affirmative action programs at state colleges and universities, fell one vote short of passage in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.
The bill by Sen. Jim Summerville, R-Dickson, (SB8) had been debated at length over two previous weekly meetings of the panel with officials of the University of Tennessee and Board of Regents systems saying it could have unintended consequences hurting various college endeavors.
Before the final vote, the committee adopted an amendment proposed by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, that he described as addressing “every single objection” raised by higher education officials.
Still, only Campfield and three other senators voted for the bill on final vote. Two voted no and three abstained. A bill requires five yes votes to move out of the committee.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to eliminate affirmative action initiatives from higher education institutions has stalled in the Senate.
The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Jim Summerville of Dickson was deferred in the Senate Education Committee after committee members and higher education officials who spoke before the panel expressed concern with the bill’s language.
As written, the legislation would prohibit colleges and universities from granting preference “based on race, gender or ethnicity … to any student or employee of the public institution of higher education or any person with whom the public institution of higher education contracts.”
The committee deferred the bill for a week in order for the measure’s sponsor and the state’s legal staff to clarify the term “preference.”
One concern is that the current legislation could run afoul of federal law and possibly cost the state funding.
Gov. Bill Haslam says that changing the direction of higher education is “more than a battleship,” but that he eventually expects to change its governing structure, according to Hank Hayes report on a meeting with members of the Kingsport Times-News Editorial Board.
An excerpt: “It’s such an insular world. It’s the most insular world I’ve ever seen,” Haslam, a Republican, said of higher education.
After a top-to-bottom review last year, Haslam didn’t push for change in the state’s higher education governing structure.
That governing structure features two big boards — the Tennessee Board of Regents and the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees — in addition to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, the state’s coordinating agency for higher education.
Haslam admitted he hasn’t figured out what to do with the governing structure.
“There’s as many answers as there are states as to how it should be set up,” he said. “At the end of the day, I don’t think governance structure is our primary issue … (but) I think we address governance structure before we leave here. At the end of the day, it matters.”
In the meantime, Haslam said his administration is “hacking away” at other pieces of higher education in an attempt to entice Tennesseans to get more college diplomas.
His budget proposal calls for a partnership with Western Governors University to offer online courses with a goal of increasing the percentage of Tennesseans with a post-secondary credential from 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025.
Haslam has proposed starting a $35 million endowment to provide scholarships to students from low-income families through the Tennessee Student Assistance Corp.
He has also appointed Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd to be the head of an ongoing higher education review effort.
One part of that effort, said Haslam, is expanding college affordability.
“I would love for a middle-income family to send a kid to a two-year program for free,” Haslam said. “We don’t think we’re all that far from coming up with a formula for making that happen.”
State government, Haslam pointed out, is now funding higher education based on college completion instead of enrollment. It’s all part of a work force development strategy.
“We need more engineer majors. We need more welders. We need more computer science majors. You will see us investing in those buildings and places that increase capacity,” Haslam said.
But Haslam indicated the biggest looming issue is how the state will react to the federal health care reform law, also known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
When he submitted his budget proposal to lawmakers, Haslam deferred one ACA decision — whether Tennessee should expand its Medicaid system.
“We could decide to expand tomorrow, or we could expand it five years from now,” Haslam said of the decision.
ACA’s changing Medicaid eligibility requirements, however, will bring more people into the program and cost the state $150 million to $200 million even without expansion, Haslam said.
With the “Tennessee Civil Rights Initiative” and related legislation, Sen. Jim Summerville says he is trying to end the last vestiges of discrimination in state government and public education and put everyone on equal footing insofar as race, gender and ethnicity goes.
Following the “mostly peaceful social revolution during the Dr. Martin Luther King era,” Summerville said in an interview, “there may have been a reason for preferences in hiring, in college admissions, in scholarships.”
But not anymore, said the Republican senator from Dickson, an adjunct professor at Austin Peay State University and author of several books involving history research.
“These laws just aren’t needed anymore,” he said. “It’s time to let it all go. We are at another level now.”
News release from the governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced that Randy Boyd will join his administration as special advisor to the governor for Higher Education to focus on affordability, access and quality of state programs.
Boyd will consult with a formal working group appointed by Haslam made up of the governor, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR), and president of the University of Tennessee. Although Boyd’s position will be full-time, he will be working for the state on a voluntary, unpaid basis.
Gov. Bill Haslam, whose administration has been studying vouchers and potential changes to the state’s higher education system for months, said Tuesday he may not propose any significant changes in the two areas next year.
On vouchers, the governor in 2011 asked legislators to hold up action on legislation to establish a “equal opportunity scholarship” program of providing state funding for “at-risk” children to attend to private schools in Tennessee’s four largest counties.
The bill, which had passed the Senate but not the House, was shelved as Haslam appointed a “task force” that w chaired by Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, which wrapped up its work last month by making some broad recommendations but proposing no specific legislation.
On Tuesday, Haslam told reporters that he may have no legislation at all on vouchers for the 2013 legislative session, which begins Jan. 8. Instead, he said the administration could leave legislators to file bills on the subject and then decide whether to support or oppose the measures.
A final decision on voucher legislation, he said, would come “after the first of the year.” He said there were several complex questions to be answered in drafting legislation, ranging from what children should be covered by vouchers and what sort of accountability the state should impose on private schools receiving money – perhaps for just a single enrolled student.