Pledge to vote this election season

Election season is officially upon us:  Early voting for the state and federal primaries and county general election begins today and will continue until Saturday, August 2.

Voter turnout in state primary elections is typically much lower than in general elections.  Take 2012 for example.  Voter turnout for the primary reached just 18.6 percent.  In contrast, voter turnout for the general election reached 62 percent.

We think voting is so important that we are asking our advocates to join us in Pledging To Vote this election season.  We believe this is an important way to build awareness about one of our key responsibilities as American citizens.

Fill out my online form.
Online contact and registration forms from Wufoo.

Bills Impacting Student Fees, Campus Speakers To Be Pursued– UT Advocacy Alert Issued

A resolution directing the UT Board of Trustees to implement changes to the current assessment and allocation of student activity fees within the UT System was passed by the Senate Education Committee last night on a 7-1 vote, with Senator Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) voting no.

Sponsored by Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) and Senate Education Chair Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), it was expected that the measure would take the place of two substantive bills filed by legislators—one that requires the allocation of fee money for speakers based on the membership of student organizations and another to ban any institutional revenues going towards speakers all together.

While Sen. Bell and Gresham’s resolution passed in yesterday’s Senate committee, it was made clear by Senator Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) that legislation on student fees would still be sought.  “This [resolution] is just kicking the can down the road,” he stated.  Resolutions are “worth about the paper they are written on… They’re virtually worthless,” Campfield said as he laid the groundwork for further legislative action.

Senate Education Chair Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) agreed to calendar such legislation after hearing Campfield’s concerns, and both Senators Hensley and Bell indicated support for additional measures.

Both bills (SB1608, SB2493) sponsored by Sen. Campfield have been calendared for next week’s Senate Education Committee.

The resolution passed by the Committee last night (SJR626-Bell, Gresham) was agreed upon by legislators and University leaders and was sufficient enough to do all that can be done by the University to address legislative concern without violating the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. 

It includes a provision directing the Board of Trustees to implement an option for student fee-payers to “opt in” to the portion of the fee allocated to student organizations for student programming, and directs the Board and UT administrators to publish a list of all student programs funded by the fee.  It also directs the Board to consider ways in which transparency and accountability might be improved in the current fee allocation process.

One item in the resolution is specific to the Knoxville campus, directing the UT Board of Trustees to work with UT administrators in order to restructure the University Program and Services Fee Board (UPSF) to ensure a majority of non-student representation.  Under the resolution, the UT President will be required to report back to the Education Committee Chairs by January 1, 2015.

SJR626 is a good faith effort by the University to resolve legislative concern over student activity fees.   Please contact your elected officials and ask them to strongly oppose SB1608 (Campfield)/HB2378 (Lynn) and SB2493 (Campfield)/HB2450 (Matlock).  Click here to take action through the UT Advocacy e-Action Center.

SB1170: Sponsor Sensed Loss, Sought Plan B

In a Senate Education Committee meeting last night, numerous committee members and higher education leaders voiced concerns on proposed legislation that would authorize nationally accredited for-profit schools to sidestep existing regulations and award any degree of their choosing, such as an academic Bachelor’s or Associate’s degree.  After strong testimony highlighting the consumer protection side of the argument, it appeared that most members of the nine-person committee would be voting no on the bill.

To keep the issue alive and after conferring with proponents of the legislation, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville), asked the committee to move the bill to a summer study.  The committee chair, Sen. Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), then recommended that the Higher Education Oversight Committee discuss the issue this summer.  The bill was then sent to General Sub, effectively stalling the bill for this year.

This avoided a roll call vote on the issue and allows the exact legislation to be revived next year.  The move was a strategic one by Sen. Campfield to keep the bill alive in the Senate.

Many UT advocates took time to contact their elected officials on this issue, and it generated widespread concern in committee regarding the bill.  We thank each advocate for helping protect the value of degrees from regionally accredited schools in Tennessee.  Of equal value, you helped keep important consumer protections in place for prospective students.

The legislation unanimously passed in the House Education Subcommittee one week ago.  The full House Education Committee has deferred action on the bill until Tuesday, April 9.

To view previous coverage on this issue, click here.

Degree Value at Risk: For-Profit Schools Inch Closer to Degree Equivalency

Members of the House Education Subcommittee unanimously passed legislation last week that could undermine the value of degrees earned from all University of Tennessee, Board of Regents (TBR), and Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association (TICUA) institutions.

SB1170/HB1091 authorizes for-profit schools that have only obtained national accreditation to award any degree of their choosing, such as a traditional Bachelor’s or Associate’s degree.  Currently, these institutions must utilize a qualifier when awarding degrees.  This qualifier does not imply transferability to regionally accredited institutions or comparable academic rigor.  The bill, now heading to the full House Education Committee, would remove the qualifier and imply to the prospective student that these degrees are of a similar quality as those awarded by regionally accredited institutions such as UT.

National accreditation is a lesser standard than the more rigorous regional accreditation obtained by institutions such as the University of Tennessee, the Board of Regents, and the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association.

Regional accreditation is the golden standard of higher education accreditation.  Under current rules, if an institution is not regionally accredited, they are required to have transfer agreements with at least two regionally accredited universities (one of which must be located in Tennessee) in order to award traditional academic degrees.

Existing rules make certain that degrees being offered by proprietary schools meet the rigorous standards of Tennessee SACS accredited colleges and universities.  SACS is the regional accrediting body for degree-granting higher education institutions in the southern states.

This bill will lead students to enroll in institutions under the mistaken belief that the degrees meet the same standards as degrees offered by the state’s regionally accredited colleges and universities.  This is not the case.

It should be noted that all institutions of higher learning may apply to become regionally accredited.  Many do not apply due to the cost involved in hiring highly qualified faculty and establishing sufficient curriculum and student learning resources.

Treating these institutions and the degrees they produce as equals without their meeting the same standards implies a level of academic quality and rigor that simply does not exist. Furthermore, it realistically jeopardizes the students in such programs by failing to provide any level of consumer protection.

This bill represents another attempt by non-regionally accredited proprietary institutions to obtain a loophole around the processes that the University of Tennessee, the Board of Regents, and the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association institutions go through regularly.

The bill is calendared for the Senate and House Education Committees the week of April 1.

SB 8 Fails in Senate Education Committee

After over 1,300 emails and phone calls by UT Advocates and visible opposition by the higher education community, SB 8 failed this evening in the Senate Education Committee.

Senators Gresham, Campfield, Hensley, and Kelsey voted for the bill. Senators Burks and Gardenhire voted against it. Senators Tate, Dickerson, and Crowe passed on the vote, effectively killing the bill.

For more information on the bill, click here.

Please take time this week to thank those members who passed or voted no.

The bill was taken up prior to the Committee’s six calendared budget hearings, which includes that of the University of Tennessee System.

Details of the budget hearing will be posted as they develop.