A bill mandating a tuition freeze for Tennessee colleges and universities was approved 9-0 by the Senate Education Committee after the panel’s chairman blamed “salary inflation” in higher education for past tuition hikes, reports Richard Locker.
The bill (SB2306)…would freeze tuition and mandatory fees at current levels until the 2018-19 school year and after that require full governing-board approval for increases greater than 2 percent above the consumer price index. It would also institute a tuition-freeze for individual students, starting with freshmen entering in 2018, in which each student’s tuition and mandatory fees would remain fixed at freshman-year rates through undergraduate degrees if they remain enrolled in school and graduate on time.
Its sponsor, Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, presented a slideshow in support of the bill in her committee that sought to shift blame for large tuition increases from the state Legislature for low-to-flat appropriations for higher education over the past two decades to the campuses themselves for what she called “inflated” salaries and staffing levels. Gresham directed much of her ire at the University of Tennessee.
“Some have said tuition has gone up as enrollment has grown and the state has not kept up its end of the bargain. While this may be somewhat true, enrollment at UT Knoxville has fluctuated somewhat. UT Knoxville’s entire fiscal growth has been on the backs of our students. This graph makes it clear that a large increase in enrollment nor a decrease in state funding are really to blame for the problem,” she said.
Gresham and her charts said the UT System has 1,465 employees paid more than $100,000 per year and the Tennessee Board of Regents system has 945. Another slide compared salaries of the chief financial officers, chief information officers and general counsels of UT and TBR and their counterparts in state government. She said those positions range from 14 to 37 percent more in higher education than in the State Capitol.
“So the salary inflation in these key positions is indicative of the salary inflation that is rampant globally throughout higher education in Tennessee,” Gresham said, though she didn’t cite numbers. “Non teaching positions are being paid substantially more than their general state government counterparts by-and-large for no other reason other than … they work in higher education. For example, how both TBR and UT feel their CFOs should be paid 21 and 32 percent more respectively than the (state) commissioner of finance and administration is troubling to me.
“In addition to the UT System chief financial officer earning $250,219, UT Knoxville has a vice chancellor of finance and administration that is paid $303,060 and this staffer has an assistant earning $170,168 a year and two more directors earning roughly $100,000 each in his department, for a total payroll including benefits of over a million dollars a year just in these five positions,” Gresham said.
The UT System’s vice president for government relations, Anthony Haynes, said he was surprised and “disappointed” with the presentation. “If we have been given a better idea of what the presentation was, we could have prepared for it. There continues to be a lack of understanding about the cause of tuition increases. Nobody has worked harder to keep tuition lower in Tennessee than UT. Last year’s tuition increase was the lowest in 20 years.”
Note: The Senate bill now goes to the Finance Committee. There’s been no committee vote in the House.