The Governor’s Focus on College and University Success (FOCUS) Act passed on the House floor Thursday morning on a 71-19 vote, bringing the bill one step closer to becoming law. The FOCUS Act is Governor Haslam’s major higher education initiative that creates individual governing boards for each of the six four-year universities housed within the current Tennessee Board of Regents System and increases the regulatory authority of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC). While the legislation has a limited direct impact on the University of Tennessee System, one way that it does impact UT is by providing THEC with the power to set binding tuition increase ranges that must be abided by all public colleges and universities in the state. Full tuition setting authority currently rests with the UT Board of Trustees.
Debate on the House floor centered on how board members should be appointed—and whether or not the legislature should have some appointing authority over all higher education governing boards. Some members articulated their intent to revisit this issue in the future, setting the stage for debate on this issue in upcoming legislative sessions. Concerns were also voiced over how the legislation might amplify increased political competition amongst public higher education institutions for limited state funding resources and capital projects.
The bill is still making its way through the Senate, where it is next scheduled for a hearing before the Finance, Ways, and Means Committee on March 29.Tags: FOCUS Act, TN