Higher Education Budget Hearing Highlights UT Strengths, Needs

Governor Bill Haslam held his final round of budget hearings yesterday, November 13.  Present for testimony were UT President Joe DiPietro, Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan, and Tennessee Higher Education Commission Executive Director Rich Rhoda.  THEC’s state funding recommendation for FY 2013-14 included a $35.5 million dollar increase for higher education.  The increase would be a welcome change due to the dramatic decline in public funding for higher education that has occurred over the last ten years.

Per the Governor’s request, THEC also prepared a contingency plan for higher education funding which included a 5% budget reduction.  This request was not unique to higher education–all state agencies were asked to submit such plans.  It has been noted by the Governor that if these cuts are implemented they will not be uniform across each state agency.  Based on the funding recommendation provided by THEC,  a six percent tuition increase for Tennessee’s public universities was recommended for FY 2013-14.  A three percent increase was recommended for community colleges and technology centers.

President DiPietro’s testimony centered around three critical higher education areas: quality, access, and affordability.  Some notable points from his testimony are below.

Quality
Over the last five years, the UT System has increased the number of undergraduate degrees awarded by 21.4% and graduate degrees by 12.4%.  UTK and UTM have the state’s highest graduation rates amongst public universities, with UTC holding the state’s fourth highest rate.  The UT System is producing more graduates in STEM areas, with an increase of 29% in the last five years.  Our campuses are regularly recognized for quality by independent organizations such as US News and World Report and the Princeton Review, and this year is no different.  In fact, UTK is now ranked 46th in US News and World Report (up one spot from last year), UTC was named a “Best Value” by US News, and UTM was ranked a “Best in Southeast” by the Princeton Review while having the state’s highest student satisfaction rates.

Access
UT continues to focus on access and a diverse student body.  Through the UT Martin Centers in McNairy County, Jackson, Parsons and Ripley, rural counties in Middle and West Tennessee are connected to the University. Due to these centers, 900 students have initiated their pursuit of higher education and subsequently graduated from UTM.  Online degree programs have also provided increased access.  The UT System has 63 academic programs that are completely online.  Combined, these programs enroll over 5,300 students.

Affordability
Tennessee college graduates have the 9th lowest debt burden in the nation.  At UT’s undergraduate campuses, student debt has gone down some 13% over the last five years.  While tuition has increased, campuses have kept net cost (cost after application of merit and need based aid) to students at relatively low levels.

At the hearing, President DiPietro requested that the Governor consider higher education funding with increased weights for STEM degree production.  He also highlighted the need for an increased appropriation for UT’s Non-Formula Units.  One of the last topics addressed by the President was faculty and staff compensation.  While other state agencies receive full funding for salary increases, higher education does not, requiring 40-50% of these funds to be generated through tuition.  President DiPietro articulated that UT seeks full state funding of these salary increases and flexibility for administering them.

The Governor’s budget proposal will be presented to the legislature in late January.  Budget discussions amongst the legislature will occur thereafter, the final budget resulting in the spring.  The UT Board of Trustees will consider tuition matters in June 2013, a decision largely based on the actual amount of appropriations provided by the state.

To view the archived video of the hearing, click here.  For more information about the recommended budget, visit the Tennessee Higher Education Commission’s website.