Support for Tuition Freeze Grows

A pair of state legislators have filed a bill that would freeze tuition and mandatory fees at Tennessee’s public universities until the 2018-19 school year and after that require full governing-board approval for increases greater than 2 percent above the consumer price index.

The bill would also institute a tuition-freeze program, starting with freshmen entering college in 2018, in which students’ tuition and mandatory fees would remain fixed at their freshman-year rates through their undergraduate degrees as long as they remain enrolled in school and graduate on time.

The Tuition Stability Act, SB2308/HB2069, was filed by state Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, and state Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville, to slow tuition rates at the state’s public colleges and universities, Gresham said in a statement.

“College tuition is out of control in Tennessee and everyone knows it,” Gresham said. “Any college student or their family who attended a Tennessee college or university during the last decade understands all too well the problem this bill addresses.”

State higher education officials for years have attributed much of the steep increases in tuition and fees to the failure of state appropriations — set by the state Legislature in the yearly state budget — to keep pace with rising costs, forcing colleges and universities to raise tuition after cutting campus spending. In some years, state appropriations for colleges and universities have been cut, as they were in the recession when more than $300 million was cut from higher education’s budgets from 2008 to 2012.

Inflation-adjusted data compiled by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission indicates that state appropriations per full-time student enrolled at the state’s universities dropped 27 percent in the 10 years from 2004-05 through 2014-15 — while revenue from student tuition and fees increased 56 percent.

During the same decade, the student-funded share of the cost of education rose from 51 percent to 69 percent.

State appropriations per full-time student at the state’s 13 community colleges dropped 21.5 percent in those same 10 years, while student tuition and fees rose 45.3 percent. The students’ share of the costs of community colleges rose from 43 percent to 58 percent in that decade, according to THEC.

Over the past 25 to 30 years, higher education officials say, the ratio of state appropriations to student tuition and fees has reversed. The state previously paid 70 percent of the costs at its public universities, and students paid 30 percent. Today, students pay 70 percent, and the state pays 30 percent.

At the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, student tuition and mandatory fees for an in-state undergraduate have risen from $733 per semester in 1988 to $5,393 in the current semester, excluding residence halls, meal plans, and special course and class fees.

At the University of Memphis, instate undergraduates paid $610 per semester in 1988, compared to $4,818 this semester for students taking 18 semester hours, excluding room, board and other specialty fees.

“If the present rate of tuition increases were to continue, an affordable college education would soon be out of reach for all but the most affluent Tennesseans,” Gresham said in the statement. “That is simply unacceptable.”

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