Haslam’s State of the State Address

Category: State Issues

State of the StateGovernor Bill Haslam delivered his third State of the State Address tonight in front of lawmakers and other state leaders, including UT President Joe DiPietro.  The Governor outlined the major details of his budget proposal, which were overall positive for higher education and the University of Tennessee.

For the first time, the Governor is recommending to fully fund the Complete College Act outcomes based funding formula.  This amounts to a $35.5 million funding increase for higher education in Tennessee.  His proposal includes a pledge by higher education leaders to limit tuition increases this year, allowing no more than a 6 percent increase at four-year universities and no more than a 3 percent increase at community colleges & technology centers.

Governor Halsam spoke extensively of higher education affordability and access, highlighting the mere 32 percent of Tennesseans that have an associates’ degree or higher.  He articulated a new goal: To increase graduation rates to 55 percent by 2025.

The Governor also mentioned that he was seeking to establish a partnership with an online, competency-based curriculum provider, Western Governor’s University (WGU).  WGU was founded by the governors of 19 U.S. states and is supported by a number of corporations and foundations.  This university partnership, according to the Governor, would be “geared to the 800,000 adult Tennesseans that have some college credit but didn’t graduate with an associate or four-year degree.”

Regarding higher education affordability, the Governor proposed establishing an endowment of $35 million from the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC)’s optional reserve funds.   This proposal would provide nearly $2 million annually to support last dollar scholarship programs such as tnAchieves.

The Governor laid out a $16.5 million appropriation for Tennessee Technology Centers and community colleges, specifically to be used for workforce development programs, equipment and technology.  A new technical education complex at Northeast State Community College was also proposed, as well as several other capital projects impacting the Board of Regents schools.

The Governor’s proposal for higher education maintenance funding was $60 million, along with a $250 million investment in capital projects.  Those capital projects include a proposed $61.65 million renovation to the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s Crowe, Mooney, and Nash Building Complex, which will house administrative offices and research labs.

State employees, who didn’t see a pay raise for a number of years until recently, are to receive a 1.5 percent across the board pay raise pursuant to the Governor’s proposal. State higher education institutions are unlike other state agencies in this area. Instead of receiving full funding from the state for these raises, state colleges and universities are required to provide partial funding for them through tuition.

The Governor expressed support for UT Peds, a joint pediatric research effort between the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and LeBonheur Children’s Medical Center.  The University is requesting matching funds of $2.96 million annually for five years to fund this effort.

Too, the Governor addressed the need to fund the UT Knoxville steam plant conversion.  The UTK Steam Plant provides steam for building heat, domestic hot water, and lab sterilization.  It is currently powered by five boilers, which utilize a mixture of coal, water, natural gas, and fuel oil.  The recommend funding would install new high-efficiency boilers, which would decrease by 43% UT’s carbon emissions—the equivalent of taking 3,300 homes ‘off-grid’ for one year.  This project would require $24 million.

In addition to the specific items the Governor mentioned in his State of the State Address, his annual budget has been released.  This year’s proposed budget holds additional line items for the University of Tennessee.  As the details of the Governor’s budget become apparent, we will be providing advocates with more information.  Check back soon.