The UT Government Relations and Advocacy team recently coordinated a meaningful federal relations trip to raise the University of Tennessee System’s visibility in Washington, D.C. Many organizations host D.C. receptions and meet with their Congressional delegations, but this trip was distinguished from typical visibility events due to its parallel focus on Congressional, White House, and Agency relationships. To that end, this trip represented a broader federal government relations strategy wherein all three of these relationships play critical roles. There were numerous opportunities to continue building relationships that will lead to productive partnerships for the University of Tennessee with key departments and offices such as the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce, The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and The White House Rural Council. An equally important objective was the opportunity to engage in high-level conversations regarding national policymaking—providing feedback and input to agencies such as the Department of Education. The day concluded with a reception honoring members of the Tennessee Congressional Delegation, which over 135 congressional staff, agency staff, and government relations professionals attended.
The Governor’s higher education budget hearing was held Friday, where leaders from the University of Tennessee System, Tennessee Higher Education Commission, and the Board of Regents delivered presentations and requests for FY 2014-2015.
Each year, a central theme of discussion at this hearing is tuition—namely, what is needed for the next fiscal year in terms of a tuition increase. The Tennessee Higher Education Commission makes recommendations annually to this end. This year, their recommendation includes an increase between 2 and 4 percent for traditional public campuses. THEC also recommended a 3.6 percent funding increase for non-formula units such as the UT Institute for Public Service and the UT Institute of Agriculture, a measure UT President Joe DiPietro applauded.
Higher education leaders at the hearing largely agreed with the THEC recommendation. But to meet such a recommendation, DiPietro highlighted the need for the State to commit to the full funding of the Complete College Tennessee outcomes formula and no budget cuts to UT. He also made the request that the state fully-fund any mandated employee salary increases. Historically, public higher education institutions are the only state entities that do not receive full funding for such increases.
A number of impressive facts were discussed at the budget hearing. For example:
- Over the last five years, undergraduate UT degrees awarded increased by 14 percent and graduate degrees increased by 6.7 percent.
- Over the last five years, student debt has dropped by 7.8 percent at UT undergraduate campuses.
- Tennessee college graduates have the 7th lowest debt-burden in the country.
- Graduation rates at UTK and UTM have increased. UTK has the state’s highest graduation rates among public institutions, UTM the second highest, and UTC the fourth highest.
To watch the archived video of the budget hearing, click here.
The past three months of revenue collections in Tennessee have fallen below budgeted estimates. The most recent figures show that for the month of October, collections were $17.8 million less than budgeted levels. This follows an even larger under collection for the month of September, where revenues were $59.0 million less than estimated. Similarly, collections in August were $24.3 million less than estimated.
On an accrual basis, October is the third month in the 2013-2014 fiscal year. The figures combined yield year-to-date collections that are $101.2 million below budgeted estimates.
“We are very disappointed with the negative growth rates reported in corporate tax collections for October and the preceding two months,” Finance and Administration Commissioner Larry Martin said in the press release announcing the October figures. “However, the sales tax is our best economic indicator, and it reflects modest growth for the month and first quarter of 2013-2014.
“The national and state leading economic indicators continue to indicate a very slow recovery is in progress, and it calls on us to continue to be diligent in monitoring our spending and revenue patterns for the remainder of this year. We are committed to keeping Tennessee’s budget balanced.”
In other budgetary news, this week marks the beginning of Governor Haslam’s budget hearings for fiscal year 2014-2015. The hearing for higher education will be held on Friday, November 15 from 1:00-2:00 pm CST. Proceedings can be viewed live online at www.tn.gov.
Promising news came from our nation’s capitol yesterday for The University of Tennessee at Martin’s Army ROTC program. Recently slated for closure by the Army at the end of the 2015 academic year, the UT Martin program was one of 13 programs nationally and three programs statewide set for elimination. The other institutions located in Tennessee include Tennessee Technological University and East Tennessee State University. As the hardest hit state by the announced closures, Tennessee’s Congressional Delegation actively worked towards finding a solution.
Leaders announced yesterday that the U.S. Army will delay for two years the closure of Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs at the three Tennessee schools, allowing them time to make improvements to their current programs to better meet the Army’s needs.
“These programs have produced some of our nation’s outstanding military leaders,” Senator Lamar Alexander said. “This is a major victory for students at these Tennessee schools, and I thank Congressmen Roe, Black and Fincher and Senator Corker for their leadership.”
Since the establishment of the Army ROTC program at The University of Tennessee at Martin, over 650 Cadets have been commissioned as Second Lieutenants in the Regular Army, the United States Army Reserve and the Tennessee Army National Guard. Currently, the Military Science program, to include Jackson State Community College, Lane College, Freed-Hardeman University, Bethel University and Union University consists of approximately 60 Basic Course Cadets and 25 Advanced Course Cadets.
The Supreme Court of the United States has taken up a case questioning the constitutionality of state bans on race-conscious admissions policies at public universities. The case hails from Michigan, where voters approved a Constitutional amendment outlawing the use of these policies at Michigan higher education institutions (Read more on the case here).
The issue likely resonates as a familiar one to those who followed a similar bill in Tennessee last year. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jim Summerville (R-Dickson), sought to ban the granting of preference based on race, gender, or ethnicity to students, employees, and contractors. The University of Tennessee and other public higher education stakeholders opposed the Tennessee bill for several reasons, particularly because the legislation failed to clearly define the term “preference”. Attempts to define “preference” via an amendment to the bill were unsuccessful and deemed unfriendly by the bill’s sponsor and Ward Connerly, the author of the bill and head of a litigation group out of California.
The University stressed to legislators last year that it does not grant preference solely based on these factors (as federal law already prohibits it) but that these factors may be used as one consideration among many to ensure the delivery of a demographically diverse student and faculty population.
As the issue emerges again for the 2014 legislative session, the Schuette vs. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action case will likely be central to the discussion. The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling on the case by June 2014, the end of the Court’s current term.
A few weeks ago, The Chronicle of Higher Education published the chart below illustrating the impacts of preference bans on college enrollment. Click here for their recent story which addresses several recent cases involving this issue.