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Campuses raising tuition and fees to deal with flat state revenue

Richard Locker The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn. (MCT) • Dec 17, 2015 at 6:41 PM

Placed in a tightening bind by state lawmakers who cut the state’s share of higher education funding and pressured college boards to hold tuition increases, Tennessee’s public universities are raising both tuition and the numerous fees students must pay to attend.

The two governing boards of the state’s public campuses — the Tennessee Board of Regents and the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees — met separately last week to set tuition and fees for the school year that opens in August. Combined tuition and fee bills will rise for all in-state undergraduates, for most, in the range of 6 to 8.5 percent. Housing and meal plans are also increasing.

When students and parents get their electronic statements in August, they’re divided into tuition (called “maintenance fees” for in-state residents) and various fees, but the total must be paid for students to attend.

Without fee increases, tuition rates would soar even higher. The UT Board and campus administrators (various fees can be approved at different levels) considered and approved a total of $10.5 million in 29 separate fee hikes and 32 separate new fees, excluding tuition, on the four primary UT campuses in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Martin and Memphis.

Some of the new fees and fee hikes are mandatory for all students but most are course-specific, paid by students who take classes and labs with extra fees attached.

Some are substantial. Some are on courses where they never existed before.

At Knoxville, all full-time students now pay seven separate mandatory fees totaling $1,510 for an academic year of two semesters — a programs and services fee, health fee, library fee, study-abroad fee, technology fee, facilities fee and transportation fee — in addition to tuition of $10,366 for a first-time freshman arriving in August, for a total of $11,876. Mandatory on-campus housing and meal plans for freshmen raise the estimated cost of attendance to $23,754.

The University of Memphis did not raise tuition for 2014-15 for the first time in 22 years, and won Board of Regents approval for substantial cuts in out-of-state tuition.

But all full-time U of M students will still see a $307 annual fee increase in August, raising the combined tuition and mandatory fee bill by 3.5 percent to $8,973. (The student government approved the fee increase, mostly to pay for a new student recreation center.)

Earlier this year, the Board of Regents approved nearly 60 separate fee hikes spread across its universities, community colleges and colleges of applied technology.

The increases in tuition and fees are occurring while Gov. Bill Haslam says the state must increase the number of residents with degrees or post-high school certificates from the current 32 percent of the state’s adult population to 55 percent by 2025, for the jobs that will exist at that time.

The governor initially proposed an increase in higher education funding, but slashed most of the increase from his budget proposal just before lawmakers approved it when state business tax revenue fell more than $200 million below projections.

Both governing boards were told last week that the tuition and fee hikes they were asked to approve would have been less than half those amounts if the $29 million increase in funding sought by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission had been approved.

In just over two decades, the ratio of funding public higher education in Tennessee has reversed itself from 70 percent state appropriations and 30 percent student tuition to 30 percent state/nearly 70 percent tuition. And higher education officials seemed resigned to that trend continuing.

“I think it’s naive to think we’re going to get a huge sum of money from the state of Tennessee to pay for the functions of the (higher ed) system, and so we’re going to have to think of other alternatives, including costs, as part of the equation to reduce the impact on Tennessee families when it comes to tuition,” Memphis lawyer John Farris told fellow members of the Board of Regents on Friday.

The president of the UT system, Dr. Joe DiPietro, and the chancellor of the regents system, John Morgan, promised to return to their boards with plans later this year to try to generate new revenue and cut spending even further.

“We have to develop a plan and build a coalition. We need for Tennessee to make investments in education,” DiPietro said.

“There are basically four ways to finance the activity we undertake,” Morgan said. “There’s tuition that we ask students to pay ..., there’s state appropriations, there’s private fundraising, and a fourth component that is critical is efficiency — finding ways to do the business we do less expensively and in a more productive fashion.

“I feel our institutions are doing as good of a job finding ways of being as productive and efficient as they can be.”

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