The House Finance, Ways, and Means Committee held budget hearings for public higher education institutions and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission on February 15. UT President Randy Boyd testified on behalf of the University of Tennessee, providing an update about the System and outlining UT funding priorities. He began his budget testimony by thanking the Administration for prioritizing salary pool increases for state employees and funding the performance-based higher education formula.
In his remarks, President Boyd highlighted the work being done throughout the University System to help students succeed, advance research, and provide outreach to Tennesseans in all 95 counties. He emphasized how the University is attracting, educating, and graduating more students than ever, with enrollment and graduation rates increasing across the UT System. President Boyd also mentioned how UT is redoubling efforts to help solve the grand challenges that Tennessee is facing. Specifically, the UT System is partnering with the Tennessee Department of Education to address the state’s teacher shortage through the Grow Your Own Center. UT is proud to be leading the work to train 2,000 new teachers at no cost.
The hearing concluded with questions from the Committee, including questions about the funding priorities not included in the Governor’s proposed budget. President Boyd shared that although the state has prioritized fully funding the performance-based higher education formula over time, graduate programs like the UT Health Science Center (UTHSC) are not included in the formula, making periodic funding increases more challenging to secure.
As the state’s largest educator of healthcare professionals in Tennessee, UTHSC has a critical role in promoting health, preventing disease, and delivering healthcare services to Tennesseans statewide. UTHSC also trains 40% of Tennessee doctors and 70% of Tennessee dentists. The University requested $10.7M in new recurring funds to help sustain UTHSC, and the proposed budget contains $1M. Given the critical nature of UTHSC to a healthy Tennessee, the University hopes to continue discussions with the Administration and the legislature about increasing this year’s allocation and finding solutions to longer-term funding challenges.
President Boyd was also asked in the hearing by House Finance Chair Patsy Hazlewood (R-Signal Mountain) about the UT higher education capital project requests not included in the proposed budget. President Boyd responded with gratitude for state support over the years regarding higher education capital projects and noted the following capital priorities for the UT System for the Committee’s consideration:
- $57.68M to expand UT Chattanooga Fletcher Hall. The top capital priority for the UT System, this project would expand and renovate Fletcher Hall, allowing the UTC College of Business to grow enrollment, meet high-demand workforce needs, and drive economic and community development. The University has secured $30M in a donor pledge for this project— 1/3 of the total project cost.
- $124.9M for a new UT Knoxville Chemistry Building. The project would replace a 70-year-old building that is structurally unsound and unsuitable for science education or research. 127 programs at UT Knoxville require chemistry courses – and over 8,000 undergraduate students are enrolled in these programs (nearly 1/3 of the undergraduate student body). The project facilitates 15% growth in chemistry undergrad majors, 20% growth in PhD students, and a 30% increase in chemistry student credit hour production. This capital project is necessary to meet student and industry demand, aligning with the state’s critical workforce needs.
- $23.65M to renovate the UT Health Science Center Gross Anatomy Lab. The proposed renovation would provide a state-of-the-art gross anatomy teaching and dissection facility to support over 400 students in the medical, dental, nursing, and physical & occupational therapy fields.