Higher Education in Tennessee is having an identity crisis. Our governor wants to increase college and community college enrollment and completion by offering free associates degrees, but our state legislature has routinely refused to adequately fund higher education needs. In response, the president of the University of Tennessee System proposed a radical plan to address those budget shortfalls.
Governor Bill Haslam authorized his “Tennessee Promise” plan that will allow in-state students to obtain an associates degree with all tuition waived beginning Fall 2015. Once in the program, students must maintain a 2.0 GPA, complete 8 hours of community service before the start of each term enrolled, and file the FAFSA by February 15 every year. Tennessee Promise seems to be part of Gov. Haslam’s “Drive to 55” initiative, which aims to have 55% of Tennesseans achieve at least an associates degree by 2025. Students who want a 4-year degree benefit from Tennessee Promise only if they earn an associates degree before transferring to a 4-year college or university. To fund Tennessee Promise, the state legislature changed the state lottery-funded HOPE award to incentivize students who want to pursue a 4-year degree to spend their first two years in college at a community college. In essence, they reduced award amounts for the first and second years to students who start college at a 4-year institution. Universities have yet to develop complete plans to deal with the potential dropoff in first and second-year students.
Tennessee Higher Education Budget Shortfalls
In October 2014, University of Tennessee President DiPietro forecast a $155M shortfall over the next ten years due to falling state contributions to the system. By February 2015, he projected a $377M shortfall over the next decade. As a result, individual campuses have been charged with finding dramatic ways to cut their budgets. On my campus, departments are being eliminated and/or consolidated to save money on department head salaries.
UT President Joe DiPietro announced on February 27, 2015 a number of measures to address budget shortfalls the state faces with regard to funding higher education. One garnered national attention for its blatant disregard for the concept of tenure.
Tenure and post-tenure review process: To be conducted by UT System Administration and with involvement by the Faculty Council, to look at awarding of tenure, post-tenure compensation and enacting of a de-tenure process. (emphasis mine)
In response to overwhelming objections and national press coverage, the UT System announced an amended version of the tenure-related measure that retracts the “de-tenur[ing]” term:
Tenure and post-tenure review process: The UT System Administration, with involvement by the Faculty Council, will conduct a comprehensive review of the University’s established tenure and post-tenure review process.
The future of the once-proposed “de-tenuring” process is unknown. But faculty are on notice: we must contribute in ways that boost student credit hours (and tuition payments).