2014 Legislative Outcomes

The 108th General Assembly of Tennessee wrapped up its 2014 business last week despite significant controversy and tension over taxes, budgets, and education.  As in years past, the legislature produced just under 3,000 bills for consideration and an additional 2,499 resolutions.  Due to the sheer scope of the University of Tennessee System, over 600 bills were tracked with either direct or indirect impacts.

So, where does that leave us for 2014?  A summary of legislative outcomes, created for UT Advocates, is below.


UT Martin Parsons Center Groundbreaking Set for July 22

MARTIN, Tenn. – A groundbreaking ceremony is set for 10 a.m., Monday, July 22, for the expansion that will house the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at the UT Martin Parsons Center in Decatur County beginning in fall 2014. Governor Bill Haslam, UT Martin Chancellor Tom Rakes and other officials are scheduled to attend the event that will take place outside the center, located at 975 Tennessee Avenue North in Parsons.

Initial funding for the program was included in the budget proposed by Gov. Haslam and approved this year by the General Assembly. The $1 million appropriation will be used to build a 10,000-square-foot addition to the current facility. The addition will include classrooms, a skills laboratory and a high-fidelity computerized simulation laboratory.

The expansion plans received an added boost recently when the West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation made a $1 million commitment to the project.

The Parsons Center will have openings for up to 30 students annually for the program, with 20 slots designated for traditional students and 10 slots for licensed practical nurses. BSN program graduates will be eligible to take the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses and obtain licensure as registered nurses.

Nursing students at Parsons will receive the same experience as those students enrolled at the Martin campus. The program works with health-care facilities across the region to provide three years of clinical experience for its students. Similar programs at other institutions offer only two years of clinical experience. Currently, approximately 120 students are enrolled in the BSN program at the Martin campus.

Construction on the facility is expected to begin this summer.


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.

Counselors-in-Training Bill Nears Critical House Subcommittee

The Senate adopted SB514 last week, disregarding the concerns of Counseling, Social Work and Psychology professionals and training programs across the state. The legislation is predicated on the incorrect notion that the practice of social work and psychological counseling is more fundamentally about providing spiritual and personal advice.  In practice, however, the professions of social work and psychological counseling involve the clinical application of treatment to persons irrespective of their spiritual needs. The legislation essentially allows a counseling student trainee to arbitrarily deny treatment to any client with whom they might claim to have a religious difference.

Currently, all trainees are made fully aware of the ethical codes governing the training programs at the beginning of their respective academic programs.

Proponents of the legislation argue that the ethical codes that require counselors, including student trainees, to treat the clinical needs of all patients should no longer be recognized as reasonable guides.

The measure was adopted by the Senate on a 22-4 vote.

The implication from proponents of the legislation is clear: Professional obligation to provide clinical treatment, even through a state sponsored clinical program,  does not apply if the client’s religious belief differs in any way from that of the practitioner.

Proponents argue that accrediting associations such as the American Psychological Association, and by extension, the American Bar Association, or the American Medical Association have no standing in Tennessee.

What will happen to the ethical tenant of “First, do no harm?”  Will Tennessee train doctors to deny treatment to anyone whose religious beliefs differ from their own, even if it causes harm to the patient in question?

These are now the ethical quandaries facing our colleges of social work and psychology across the state. This legislation, if adopted by both chambers, has the potential to capriciously damage the training and professional practices of counseling in Tennessee, and places program accreditation at risk.

Upon further testimony from experts in social work, psychology, and counseling from across the state, it appears the House Education Subcommittee will potentially end the debate during their vote next week.