Tennessee’s Haslam Launches Major Higher Education Overhaul


Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam announced plans this week to overhaul the state’s public higher education system through the creation of independent governing boards instead of management by the Tennessee Board of Regents, writes Adam Tamburin for The Tennessean.

The result of this change would be that local boards at universities such as Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee State University, and Austin Peay State University would set their tuition rates, approve budgets and set priorities independently. The state’s 13 community colleges and 27 technical colleges would remain under the management of the Board of Regents.

According to Haslam, taking the universities out of the equation would allow the Board of Regents to concentrate on the struggles at community and technical schools while the universities would work individually on their “unique needs and regional economies.”

This idea has been discussed by state leaders and education officials for years, but the governor is making the move now because of the dramatic changes due to “Drive to 55,” his initiative to raise the number of Tennesseans with college degrees and certificates. Auxiliary measures including the Tennessee Promise scholarship program and the Tennessee Reconnect grant have helped thousands of students enter community and technical colleges this year.

The governor said that none of the universities would have additional costs because of the change. The independent boards’ creation will be included in the “Focus on College and University Success Act” which will be introduced to the General Assembly during the 2016 legislative session.

John Morgan, the chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents system, said he would work with the Haslam administration as it developed and executed its plan. University presidents reacted with enthusiasm and curiosity.

At this time, 32% of adult Tennesseans have a vocational program certificate or a college degree, reports The Knoxville News Sentinel. The newspaper adds that University of Memphis supporters have pushed and lobbied for decades to have an independent board.

The expectation is that the governor will set up a transitional committee to work on details of the overhaul and to set up a timetable. Memphis and Middle Tennessee State University will get their governing boards first because they are the largest Board of Regents universities. The next four universities will follow eventually.

WKRN-TV Nashville reports that the Drive to 55 is a program focused on having 55% of Tennesseans with a college degree or certificate by the year 2025. At a press conference on Tuesday, the governor announced that since its launch the state has become No.1 in the country for completion of federal student aid.

“This year Tennessee led in sheer numbers in the number of FASFA [Free Application for Federal Student Aid] completion, the best indication that we have interest in college enrollment,” Haslam said.

“That means more students in Tennessee filled out the FASFA form then in Texas, California, New York, Ohio and in Florida in those states that have more students than we do,” the governor continued.

Haslam added that by 2025, 55% of the jobs in the state will require that the applicants have a post-secondary credential. Currently, only 33% of Tennessee residents would qualify.

12 3, 2015