Haslam working to increase number of state’s higher education graduates

By Leah Kiernozek, Chattanooga, TN–Gov. Bill Haslam is working with university officials in Tennessee to try and to keep the cost of higher education affordable to students while working on his plan to increase the number of students graduating from Tennessee schools.

Haslam spokesman David Smith said the governor is emphasizing higher education as a budget priority.

He said the budget approved during the 2012 legislative session included more than $340 million for capital maintenance and other improvements for higher education in the state.

“Leaders at the Tennessee Board of Regents and UT system have pledged that they will limit tuition increases to no more than 6 percent at four-year schools and no more than 3 percent at two-year schools,” Smith said. “Our educational institutions also have work to do to ensure they’re allocating their resources efficiently and effectively.”

The main reason tuition has been increasing in recent years has been because state appropriations have been declining, Associate Vice Chancellor Chuck Cantrell said.

Since 2003, the cost of tuition per semester for a full-time, in-state and out-of-state undergraduate student has risen approximately 46 percent.

He also said if the state comes through with the budget that is currently being proposed, then this level of tuition increase works for UTC, which would be required to stay under a 6 percent increase as a UT System school.

Cantrell said UTC was the only public higher education institution in the state of Tennessee to see growth in enrollment for this academic year.

“We have tried to keep our costs reasonable and accessible, and if you compare UTC’s tuition to similar schools around the South, you will find our tuition is quite reasonable,” he said.

Allison Siano, a sophomore from Memphis, said she took out a subsidized loan and an unsubsidized loan in order to help pay for the costs of tuition.

“I feel the costs of going to UTC are high, but with in-state tuition and scholarships, it is reasonable,” Siano said.

She also applied for scholarships and received the HOPE, Hannah Thomas Scholarship and received the Pell Grant.

Cantrell said UTC students graduate with an average student loan debt far below the national average and the lowest in the UT system.

On average, University student loan debt is about $13,500 when they graduate, compared to students at some schools where the loans can be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Cantrell said the U.S. News and World Report recognized the low cost of tuition recently by awarding UTC a Best Value ranking for 2013, based on the balance of the cost of attendance and the quality of the education offered.

“We recognize our role as a metropolitan campus as well as destination for many first-generation college students,” Cantrell said.

Cantrell said remaining accessible is part of the mission and part of who we want to be as a campus.

“We are very mindful of costs, admissions requirements, and services,” Cantrell said.

Cantrell said all of the elements that go into educational accessibility are always kept in mind.

Haslam has made two proposals relating to his goals to increase the number of graduates and accessibility, Smith said.

One proposal is a partnership with Western Governors University to establish “WGU Tennessee,” an online, competency-based university geared to the 800,000 adult Tennesseans that have some college credit but didn’t graduate with an associate or four-year degree.

He also proposed an endowment of $35 million to tackle affordability, using operational reserve funds from the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation, Smith said.

“The endowment is designed to provide nearly $2 million each year to support scholarships for ‘last dollar’ scholarship programs such as TN Achieves,” he said.

Cantrell said the  faculty and staff at the University are excited about Haslam’s proposed budget.

“For the first time in several years, it does not contain across the board costs and includes a modest salary increase for UTC workers,” Cantrell said.

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