Gov. Bill Lee Announces February 5 for State of the State Address

Governor Bill Lee announced he will deliver the 2024 State of the State address on Monday, February 5, at 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT.  The annual address is a critical part of the legislative process since it is when the Administration announces its policy and legislative priorities for the year. The State of the State also marks the official release of the first draft of the governor’s proposed budget.

The University’s top budget priority this year is securing funding for new capital projects. The University of Tennessee System has the largest infrastructure of any state higher education entity, with a gross square footage of 29,915,942. It is also the state’s oldest higher education institution and the largest producer of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees, serving more than 55,000 students annually. UT’s average building age is 47 years, and 298 (29%) of UT’s 1,012 buildings are over 60 years old.  Sixty of UT’s buildings are over 100 years old. And since 2012, UT has faced a unique challenge, with state capital outlay investments declining by nearly 20% relative to total capital outlay appropriations for public institutions of higher education.

In order to meet the needs identified in UT’s state-approved Campus Master Plans and support the state’s growing workforce and educational needs, over $3.4B in capital outlay investments have been identified across the System. Below is more information about UT’s fiscal year 2024-2025 capital project requests:

UT Chattanooga Business Building – $66.4M State Investment

With a focus on high-demand degrees and credentials such as data analytics, accounting, management, human resources, and sales/marketing, the Rollins College of Business (RCOB) supports a pipeline of workforce-ready employees for the more than 250 companies in the Chattanooga region. This project would expand and renovate Fletcher Hall, allowing RCOB to accommodate its significant enrollment demand. RCOB is currently limited by space constraints in its ability to grow enrollment, produce additional graduates, address workforce needs, and contribute to the region’s and the state’s overall continued economic growth. The expansion will include a greater focus on recruiting, upskilling, and supporting adult learners and housing programs such as the Decosimo Student Success Center. UT Chattanooga has secured a $30 million donor commitment to help fund the building, reducing the need for a more significant state investment.

UT Knoxville Chemistry Building – $165M State Investment

UT Knoxville has a significant need for a new chemistry building as the current facility is structurally unsound and near the end of its useful life. Nearly one-third of UT’s undergraduate students are in a program that requires chemistry courses. These programs include agriculture, nuclear engineering, forensic science, nursing, neuroscience, pre-dental, pre-medical, pre-pharmacy, pre-veterinary, construction science, aerospace engineering, civil engineering, and computer science – all high-demand fields in Tennessee. Ph.D. chemists are highly sought after as researchers of pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, agrichemicals, electronics, battery technology, and national lab researchers. The American Chemical Council indicates that chemistry is Tennessee’s 3rd largest manufacturing industry, ranking 12th in the nation for chemical industries. Ranked #1 on the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC)’s recommendation list, the new chemistry building will help UT Knoxville to stay competitive with other institutions, strengthen recruitment efforts, and meet industry demand supporting high-wage, high-need fields, and quality jobs for Tennesseans.

UT Health Science Center Gross Anatomy Lab – $29.6M State Investment

The renovation of the UTHSC General Education Building would provide a state-of-the-art gross anatomy teaching and dissection facility, which is a necessity for providing top-quality education for Tennessee’s future healthcare workforce. According to the THEC Supply and Demand Report 2022 “employment in healthcare occupations is expected to grow 16% from 2020 to 2030.” The current gross anatomy lab is a limiting factor in UTHSC enrollment growth, and this investment would support roughly 760 students in the areas of medical, dental, nursing, and physical and occupational therapy. Accreditors require evidence of institutional capacity, including gross anatomy lab capacity, before they approve enrollment increases. With UTHSC being the largest producer of Tennessee’s healthcare workforce and 62% of their graduates staying in the state, supporting this proposal is an investment that benefits the overall health and well-being of Tennesseans statewide.

The University is also supportive of THEC’s budget recommendations.

As a reminder, THEC presented its higher education funding recommendations to the Lee Administration in November.

The Commission’s proposed spending plan notably includes:

  • $17M to fully fund the higher education outcomes-based formula;
  • $75,000 operational increase for UT’s newest campus, UT Southern;
  • $35.9M to expand the Tennessee Student Assistance Award, which provides scholarships to Tennessee’s low-income students;
  • $1.5M non-recurring for the Center Healthcare Improvement and Patient Safety (CHIPS) at the UT Health Science Center to improve medical technology and provide staff training;
  • $3M recurring for the UT Institute of Agriculture to invest in precision livestock farming; and,
  • $3.7M recurring to create a new funding formula to address more sustainable and predictable operating increases for non-formula units like the UT Health Science Center and the UT College of Veterinary Medicine.

UT Advocates can live-stream and learn more about Gov. Lee’s 2024 State of the State Address here.