NASHVILLE – The University of Tennessee is heading into uncharted territory, seeking to cut costs while maintaining excellence in the face of projected funding gaps, and successful navigation can secure the state’s future.
That was UT President Joe DiPietro’s message to state legislators in today’s annual “UT Day on the Hill,” for which he was joined by UT Knoxville alumnus and nationally known financial expert Dave Ramsey.
At a breakfast gathering, DiPietro told legislators that an analysis based on UT’s current funding structure projects a funding gap of $377 million developing over the next 10 years.
“We don’t want to rely on tuition increases to close the gap, so we’ll find ways to cut costs and increase revenue, but as we go through this process, we will need your support,” DiPietro said. “That’s because this is about securing Tennessee’s future. The University of Tennessee is critical to our state’s future and economic success.”
Ramsey, who earned a bachelor’s degree in finance in 1982, noted about 50 percent of UT students graduate without student debt, and those who graduate with debt have levels of debt below the national average.
“People call my radio show every day, and they talk about having tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt,” Ramsey said. “Some of the lowest student loan debt in the nation is here in Tennessee. Keeping tuition affordable helps that.”
Ramsey, his wife, Sharon, and all three of their children are UT grads, as are several nieces and nephews. Ramsey said he and his family are proud of their UT legacy and that he supports DiPietro’s efforts to lead change needed to resolve funding shortfalls.
“Leading is willingness to fight for what’s right,” Ramsey said, challenging elected officials to fight for education.
While DiPietro praised Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year and said he hopes to see it approved by the legislature, a long-term approach to achieve sustainable funding remains critical.
“We’re very grateful for the budget Governor Haslam has proposed,” DiPietro said. “This would be a good budget year, and if it is, it will make this the second good year I’ve seen in almost a decade. “The problem is, we can’t continue to pass on tuition increases to cover funding gaps that accumulate in all the years that aren’t good budget years.
“We have to solve this problem. Doing so is critical to the future of Tennessee because I believe a better UT leads to better life for all Tennesseans.”
DiPietro said he’s asked each UT chancellor and the current interim vice president for public service – who heads the UT Institute for Public Service – to identify how to close funding gaps at their campus or institute while also maintaining excellence. Those proposals will become part of a two-year approach DiPietro said he has outlined for the next two UT budget cycles “in which we attack that developing funding gap.”
DiPietro, Ramsey and the leadership of each UT campus and institute were joined for UT Day on the Hill by Nashville-area UT trustees Brad Lampley, Jim Murphy, Rhedona Rose, Tommy Whittaker, student trustee Jalen Blue, and Julius Johnson, also Tennessee commissioner of agriculture. National UT Alumni Association President Tom Losh, President-Elect Alan Ledger, Alumni Legislative Council Chairman Jim Duke and students of each campus also participated in the event and visited with legislators.
UT Day on the Hill, an event coordinated by the UT Office of Government Relations and Advocacy, is the single most visible day on Capitol Hill for the University of Tennessee System and its mission.