Governor Bill Lee concluded his department budget hearings this week with presentations from higher education stakeholders. Interim UT President Randy Boyd shared with the Governor his view that “the most important thing [UT] needs to do as a System is make sure more students graduate on time.” He further stressed the critical nature of fully funding the state’s higher education performance funding formula as integral to the state’s success and UT’s ability to keep higher education affordable for students.
At the hearing, Boyd focused on three specific funding requests to advance special initiatives of the University of Tennessee System.
Tackling the State’s Opioid Crisis. The UT Health Science Center began a pilot program last year with a $2 million grant using comprehensive, holistic interventions for opioid addiction. In addition to clinical and medically-assisted treatment for patients, social and behavioral solutions are also being applied. Boyd stated the effort is a national model that could be spread across the state. He requested $3 million recurring to continue to the work of the program. As an example of return on investment, Boyd shared a study released by UT experts this week that suggests every ten percent decrease in opioid usage saves the state $800 million.
Assisting Distressed Counties. Boyd highlighted an $800,000 recurring budget request for the UT Institute for Public Service (IPS). The funding would provide additional staffing focused on economically distressed counties across the state, helping rural communities export local products and assisting small businesses and localities in the state’s rural areas with securing government grants and contracts. Cities, counties, and small businesses in the state’s rural areas have been requesting more targeted assistance from IPS and the funding would fill that need.
Advancing Ag Technology through the UTIA Center for Agriculture Synthetic Biology.
Boyd requested $1 million for the UT Institute of Agriculture to fund the first university center of its kind focusing on synthetic biology research. This would help UT establish a leadership position in a market predicted to grow from $4 billion to $14 billion over the next ten years.
Boyd also highlighted UT’s top capital priority, which is ranked number one on the Tennessee Higher Education Commission’s capital funding requests. The UT Institute of Agriculture Energy and Environmental Science Education and Research Center will serve as a facility to educate students in the broad disciplines of agriculture, forestry, energy, and the environment. These industries are tremendously important in the State of Tennessee, and collectively contribute more than $70 billion to our economy and employ nearly 15% of our workforce. The building will be heavily used not only by students, but also in teaching, research, extension, and by state and federal agencies.