State’s higher ed officials undecided on tuition hike
Posted: Wednesday, November 26, 2008 9:02 pm
By LUCAS L. JOHNSON II
Associated Press Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — Higher education officials facing a massive state budget shortfall said they will seek areas to make cuts before proposing a tuition increase.
The heads of the Tennessee Board of Regents, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and the University of Tennessee met with Gov. Phil Bredesen on Tuesday as he concluded his budget hearings.
Bredesen, who earlier this year requested 3 percent cuts from all state departments, is asking each department for reductions of as much as 15 percent to take care of a shortfall of potentially $800 million this year.
The governor told the higher education officials he’d like to have a plan of implementation from them as early as next month because there won’t be any new money available to them July 1. Higher education accounts for about $1.2 billion of the state budget, and Bredesen anticipates cutting roughly $150 million from it.
“I think they have some work to do to come to grips with what it is they’re going to have to do here,” the governor said. “I just tried to use the hearings to hear them out politely, but also push them and say ’I think you’ve got to think outside the box”’ when making cuts.
The officials say making the cuts will be tough, but they don’t want to burden students with an enormous tuition hike. They say it’s too early to give a proposed figure on what any tuition increases might be.
“We don’t know the magnitude of what we’re going to see,” said UT president John Petersen.
Bredesen also said he doesn’t want students to suffer.
“I know tuition is going to have to be a part of this, but you don’t need to be riding on the backs of these students,” he said. “Let’s make some hard decisions internally.”
Besides higher education, the only other budget hearing on Tuesday was for Cover Tennessee, which targets the state’s uninsured who aren’t eligible for Medicaid.
Tennessee introduced Cover Tennessee last year after looking to revamp its approach to state subsidized health care after budget pressures led officials to scale back TennCare, the state’s expanded Medicaid program, by 170,000 adults in 2005.
Laurie Lee, executive director of the state’s benefits administration, which oversees Cover Tennessee, said she intends to make enrollment a last resort when evaluating places to cut. She said “overhead costs and contracts” will be some of the things targeted first.
One component of Cover Tennessee is called CoverKids, which supplies medical coverage for children whose families can’t afford insurance or are denied coverage for other reasons. There are currently 30,000 children enrolled in the program.
While cuts are inevitable, Bredesen has said he plans to do all he can to spare funding for CoverKids, as well as the pre-K portion of education.
“The things that directly bare on the welfare of children ... those to me are the last things that have to go,” he said.
Published in The Messenger 11.26.08