- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

May 20

Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel on college funding:

The freeze in Tennessee’s higher education expenditures for next year is disappointing for the public colleges and universities that embraced the state’s new funding formula.

Instead of looking for ways to collaborate on efforts to reach Gov. Bill Haslam’s ambitious Drive to 55 campaign, higher education institutions in Tennessee will be tempted to fight each other for dollars and rely even more heavily on student tuition and fees to meet expenses.

The Complete College Tennessee Act was passed in 2010 and has received national attention for its innovative funding formula. The law did away with the longstanding practice of funding campuses based on enrollment and replaced it with a formula based on outcomes such as completed credit hours and graduation rates.

During the current fiscal year, the first under the performance-based formula, Haslam fully funded the Tennessee Higher Education Commission’s budget recommendation by devoting an extra $35.5 million to campuses across the state.

The Higher Education Commission recommended a $29.6 million increase for next year, but Haslam proposed only a $9.3 million increase. When revenues came in $260 million under projections, he withdrew all new funding for higher education.

As a result, all the formula accomplishes is a redistribution of dollars among the Board of Regents institutions and the University of Tennessee campuses.

Some campuses will be rewarded for improvements, just as the Complete College Tennessee Act intended. Austin Peay State University, for example, will see a 3.16 percent increase in state appropriations. The UT campuses will receive increases ranging from 2.19 percent at Knoxville to 3.25 percent at Martin.

Other institutions, however, will see their appropriations cut, even though they showed improvements in the formula’s measurements. The University of Memphis will lose $343,500 instead of gains it would have made under the formula.

Roane State Community College will enjoy the highest jump of all Tennessee institutions at 4.21 percent. The deepest cut in appropriations will be at Southwest Community College - 4.59 percent.

The Tennessee Board of Regents system, which includes universities, community colleges and technical training centers - will lose nearly $5.7 million to the UT system.

“If this budget isn’t an anomaly and becomes practice, it creates an environment where one school’s success may come at another school’s expense,” said Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan.

Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative, which aims to raise the number of Tennessee adults with post-secondary degrees or certificates to 55 percent by 2025, relies on institutions working together, not squabbling over scraps. An underfunded appropriations formula, no matter how innovative, is meaningless. If funding does not improve next year, Tennesseans should apply this formula to state leaders: Promises without dollars equal platitudes.

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