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Education Featured

Summerville Pushing Tuition Freeze, Claims “Total Authority” Over Public Colleges

State Sen. Jim Summerville is still fuzzy on the details but he says he is concerned about the precipitous rate of tuition increases at Tennessee’s public colleges and universities and thinks some sort of tuition freeze is likely in order.

The Dickson Republican broached the idea in a press release earlier this week, calling recent yearly increases in tuition prices “an outrage.” Speaking to TNReport Tuesday, Summerville expressed concern that “Parents and young folks are being priced out of the [higher education] market.”

“Over the last 10 years, it’s been a 60 percent increase in student tuition,” Summerville continued. “No state agency gets that kind of an increase over a decade. So we need to get control over their spending and find out why this tuition is getting out of hand.”

But beyond the basic idea of freezing prices, Summerville was short on details, including how long such a freeze would last. He told TNReport he was seeking input from other lawmakers and experts before settling on a final proposal.

One group he said he hadn’t reached out to was state higher education officials, but acknowledging the likelihood of pushback from administrators, Summerville smiled, saying “I expect to hear from them.”

Regardless of any such pushback, Summerville maintained that financial restraint at state schools was in order and that the General Assembly should be the one to hold institutions responsible.

“We have total authority over higher education, we can tell them—we can bring them before the Government Operations Committees or the Education Committees and say ‘voters are not happy with this skyrocketing of costs for the universities,’” Summerville told TNReport. “Do you really need all those vice presidents? Do you need those high-paid sports coaches? Show us a plan for reducing expenses,” he said.

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Press Releases

Kyle WantsTuition Freeze, Deeper Food-Tax Cut

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; June 13, 2012:

NASHVILLE – Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle called on Governor Bill Haslam and lawmakers to introduce larger cuts to the food tax and to freeze college tuition rates amidst news that the state government has nearly $225 million in excess funds.

“The Governor has said he believes we should provide the best services at the lowest cost possible,” Kyle said. “It’s time to take out the scissors and give the people of Tennessee new, lower prices on food and education.”

Lawmakers this year repealed the state’s gift and inheritance taxes, saving some of the wealthiest Tennesseans millions in current and future taxes, while approving a .25 percent decrease in the food tax – meaning middle-class Tennesseans will save only 25 cents per $100 of groceries.

Kyle also encouraged Haslam and higher education leaders to hold the line on college tuition rates. The same week the excess revenues were announced, state community colleges and universities proposed tuition increases ranging from 4 to 7 percent.

“We’re asking Tennesseans to pay more for college while saying that we have all this extra money,” Kyle said. “Something doesn’t add up.”

An analysis by Kyle’s office shows that if half of the excess revenues were allocated to higher education, the proposed per-student tuition increases would be more than covered at Tennessee Board of Regents institutions like the University of Memphis. University of Tennessee officials are expected to discuss tuition rates in the coming days.

Kyle said Wednesday that he intends to bring legislation regarding both issues when the 108th General Assembly begins in January 2013.

“We were told for months to ignore the millions of dollars in excess revenue the state was raking in,” Kyle said. “Now that we know just how much is out there, we ought to help everyday Tennesseans with it.”