Tennessee Promise Passes House, Heads to Governor’s Desk

The Tennessee Promise Scholarship Act of 2014 was passed by the House of Representatives last night on an 87-8 vote.  Members voting no included Representatives Joe Carr (R-Lascassas), Glen Casada (R-Franklin), Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin), Andy Holt (R-Dresden), Judd Matheny (R-Tullahoma), Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), Billy Spivey (R-Lewisburg), and Rick Womick (R-Rockvale).

The legislation passed in the Senate earlier this week and now heads to the Governor’s desk, his signature being the final step in the lawmaking process.

The Tennessee Promise is a key component of Governor Haslam’s Drive to 55 Initiative, the goal of which is raising higher education attainment from the current level of 32 percent to 55 percent by the year 2025.  The Promise Scholarship will serve as a “last dollar” award, to be applied after all other scholarships and financial aid towards the cost of tuition and fees for first-time Tennessee freshman students pursuing an associates degree or technical certificate.

But the legislation also includes provisions aimed specifically at helping students at four-year universities.

Currently, HOPE scholarship eligibility is capped at 120 attempted semester hours or when a degree is earned, whichever of the two comes first.  If a student attempts 120 hours, yet still hasn’t attained a degree, their eligibility for the HOPE ceases.

The Tennessee Promise legislation changes this.  The legislation allows students to remain eligible for the HOPE scholarship for 8 full semesters (taking as many hours as they wish within that period), or to use the standard 120 semester hour cap.  In short, students will receive more flexibility in retaining their scholarships.

As with most policy changes, the change in HOPE Scholarship terminating events comes with a price tag.  To cover the cost of making this change, The Tennessee Promise legislation changes HOPE Scholarship award amounts.

At four-year universities, freshmen and sophomores eligible for the HOPE award will receive $3,500 annually.  HOPE eligible juniors and seniors will receive $4,500 annually.

Blackburn, Fleischmann Land Important Positions on U.S. House Committees

Representative Blackburn PhotoRepresentative Fleischmann Photo

This week, two members of the Tennessee Congressional Delegation were appointed to positions on key committees of interest to the University of Tennessee and the State of Tennessee.

Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) was appointed to serve as Vice Chair of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.  This committee is especially important to the University and the state given its authority and oversight of key energy programs, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and overall U.S. Energy policy.  Blackburn has served on this committee and some of its critical subcommittees for several years.  She is currently the Vice Chair of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade, and serves on the Subcommittee on Oversight, Subcommittee on Health and Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

Appointed to the House Appropriations Committee was Representative Chuck Fleischmann (R-Chattanooga).  Fleischmann’s appointment to this committee will well position Tennessee’s interests before national policymakers.  The committee is widely known as one of the House’s most powerful.  Fleischmann is an alumnus of the UT College of Law.

“The appointment of Blackburn and Fleischmann to these committees will reap great benefits for the people of Tennessee.  The importance of these two committees to the areas of research, economic development, and quality of life issues cannot be overstated.  We are very happy with the appointments of both members and look forward to working with them in their new capacity in the next legislative session,” said Anthony Haynes, UT Vice President of Government Relations and Advocacy.

The 113th Congress convenes in January, where Blackburn and Fleischmann will assume these new leadership positions.

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.

Higher Education Budget Hearing to Occur Nov. 13

In addition to being Election Day, November 6th marks the beginning of the Governor’s FY 2013-2014 Budget Hearings.  The hearings will be held over the course of one week, with higher education scheduled for Tuesday, November 13th at 9:30 A.M. CST.  All proceedings are accessible live online at www.tn.gov.

Governor Haslam provided a brief preview of the process in the below video, emphasizing support for higher education.

“We remain committed to investing in education and will be very intentional about higher education funding in this year’s budget. Education is crucial to attracting and growing Tennessee jobs.  Revenue collections continue to exceed expectations.  When more money is coming in, there is often a rush to spend those dollars.  Working with the legislature, we’ve been careful to hold back the reigns on additional spending. I think it’s our job to provide the very best service to Tennessee taxpayers at the lowest cost, and we take that job seriously.  The public budget hearings are a first step in making sure that we get it right.”

 

Early Voting Ends Tomorrow, Election Day November 6

In-person early voting ends tomorrow, November 1, in Tennessee.  To date, the overall early voting turnout amounts to over 1.2 million Tennesseans.  This figure represents the second-highest early voting turnout in Tennessee history, having surpassed November 2004, the last election involving an incumbent president, reports Secretary of State Tre Hargett.

Voters with questions regarding the locations and hours of early voting are encouraged to contact their local election commission offices.

Election day is November 6.  Check back with UT Advocacy for information regarding election results on November 7.