Higher ed takes hit after hit at students' expense
Johnson City Press
Apr 23, 2014 at 8:46 AM
Well, it’s happened again. Tennessee legislators have ended their work for the year without dealing with the rising costs of a college education. In fact, the state budget lawmakers passed earlier this month that practically guarantees students at most four-year state institutions will see tuition and fee hikes on their campuses later this year.It’s become a broken record, and the tune is far from sweet.The costs to attend a state college or university in Tennessee have more than doubled in the last 10 years. Tuition increases (and hefty increases in student activity fees) have been needed to make up for a major decline in state tax dollars going to higher education.As we’ve said in this space many times before, Tennessee has reached a tipping point when it comes to affordable higher education. Tuition hikes threaten to price higher education out of the reach of many students in this state.And the crisis continues. As Press staff writer Nathan Baker reported last week, officials at East Tennessee State University are bracing for $1 million in cuts to the school’s budget. The reduction in funds is a result of less-than-anticipated state tax revenues in the new fiscal year.This loss of state funding comes at a time when enrollment at ETSU has fallen for two straight years, draining millions from the university’s operating budget and resulting in belt-tightening measures. The university has two unappealing options for covering that loss of funding — cuts to academic programs or a hike to student tuition and fees.Based on recent history, which option would you like to guess administrators will choose?These cuts to ETSU and other four-year institutions come at the same time as a new program — pushed by Gov. Bill Haslam and passed by the General Assembly earlier this year — to offer qualified Tennesseans free tuition to state community and technical colleges. Tennessee Promise would cover two free years of tuition and fees for graduating high school seniors who wish to attend one of those state institutions. Haslam has promised the free tuition would be funded by taking roughly $300 million from lottery reserves to create an endowment. The governor said the use of lottery reserves shouldn’t be a problem because $110 million will remain.Given the tuition and fee hikes coming for four-year institutions, we believe it would be beneficial for students at those schools to hear the governor and lottery officials explain why the redirection of those reserves won’t negatively impact their scholarships. It’s important the state keeps all the promises it has made to higher ed students, both at community colleges and at four-year universities.