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Summerville to File Bill to Freeze College Tuition at Current Rates

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; July 22, 2013:

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), July 22, 2013 — State Senator Jim Summerville (R-Dickson) has announced plans to file legislation in the Tennessee General Assembly to freeze tuition at the current rates at state colleges and universities. The announcement comes after the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) and the University of Tennessee (UT) system recently adopted hikes in tuition ranging between 3 to 6 percent.

“The current increases are an outrage, especially in light of this year’s increase in appropriations to these higher education systems,” said Senator Summerville. “No other governmental department consistently raises their costs to the taxpayers at such a high rate on an annual basis.”

The General Assembly approved a budget providing a $108.6 million increase for higher education, including $65.7 million in additional funds for the Tennessee Board of Regents, $37.6 million for the University of Tennessee system and $5.2 million for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. A 2010-2011 study by the Bloomberg News College Board found that 56 percent of public four-year college students average $23,800 in student loans upon graduation.

“Over the past decade, tuition at public colleges and universities has increased by an astounding 62 percent,” added Summerville. “These ever-increasing costs lead students to take out more loans, thus saddling themselves with debt that can take almost a lifetime to pay back.”

Summerville said his legislation, the “Tennessee College Students’ Tuition Relief Act,” is currently in the drafting stage but will freeze tuition for several years. He said bill will include cost reduction recommendations to help the state’s higher education system realize efficiencies. This could include top-heavy administrative office expenses and excessive salary packages for college coaches.

“Non-instructional cost is a good place to start in looking for savings,” added Summerville. “If we are going to meet our goals of raising our college graduation rates, we must get a handle on the rising costs. This legislation is a big step in the right direction to accomplish this.”

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Bill Proposing In-State Tuition Rates for Veterans Passes Senate Education Cmte

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; March 8, 2013:

NASVHILLE, Tenn. – Legislation that would ensure all honorably discharged veterans that relocate to Tennessee receive in-state tuition rates at state colleges and universities has been approved by the Senate Education Committee. The bill, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), applies to veterans who register for college within 24 months from the time of their honorable discharge.

“Passage of this legislation makes a clear statement that Tennessee is committed to the success of veterans in their transition to civilian life,” said Senator Gresham. “We welcome them to come to Tennessee to complete their education after separating from military service and believe they will fill a need in our workforce as a result of the skills they learned in the armed forces.”

Gresham said many veterans discharged from service are eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which provides financial support for education and housing to individuals with at least 90 days of aggregate service after September 10, 2001. This includes graduate and undergraduate degrees, vocational/technical training, and approved training programs. The GI Bill also applies to individuals discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days.

“The GI Bill is a tremendous tool in helping our veterans complete a college education or training course,” added Senator Gresham. “Currently, veterans that move into Tennessee from another state to complete their education following military service are classified as out-of-state students. This can create a ‘benefit gap’ between what the GI Bill pays and the actual costs the student incurs.”

Senate Bill 208 closes the benefit gap by providing a way for veterans to establish residency after their classes begin. This must be done within one year of the student-veteran’s start of classes by registering to vote, getting a Tennessee driver’s license, registering a motor vehicle, providing proof of employment or showing other documents proving residency has been established. In addition, the bill grants members of the Tennessee State Guard one free course per term at any state-supported post-secondary institution, capped at 25 tuition waivers annually.

The Tennessee State Guard is the all-volunteer arm of the Tennessee Military Department which provides a professional complement of personnel to support the Tennessee National Guard.

“Many of our state’s employers express frustration at the difficulty they encounter finding employees with technical skills and aptitude necessary for the modern industrial workplace,” Gresham added. “Veterans separating from the service often have the skill set these employers seek. This legislation serves as an incentive for student veterans to come to Tennessee, fill these jobs while receiving their education, and for them to call Tennessee home afterwards.”

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Dems Request Special Session to Freeze Tuition

Democrats are urging the governor to head off college tuition hikes by calling lawmakers back to Nashville this summer, though their plea is not likely to prompt action.

They say lawmakers should freeze college tuition rates as officials at the state’s Board of Regents and the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees contemplate increasing college costs.

“You could call it a tuition increase. But what it really is, is a tax increase,” said Jim Kyle, the leading Senate Democrat, at a Capitol Hill press conference. “It is a tax increase on people who are trying to improve their lives and improve Tennessee by getting a better education.”

UT trustees are expected to decide this week whether to go along with proposed tuition hikes of 8 percent at the Knoxville campus, 6 percent at Chattanooga and Martin, and 4 percent at the Health Science Center in Memphis. The Board of Regents, which oversees the rest of the state’s public colleges, is considering increases ranging from 3.4 percent at Austin Peay State University to 7.3 percent at East Tennessee State University.

Democrats say the state has the money to freeze tuition, a task they say would mean handing the higher education boards $78 million. They also want to further reduce the sales tax on groceries by another penny per $100 spent. The Legislature this year approved a reduction of .25 cents per $100.

The request — made in the middle of the campaign season — is a long shot. Republicans refused to budge when those same Democrats wanted to use some $200 million in excess tax revenue to pay for even deeper cuts in the food tax.

Instead, Republicans plugged almost $30 million of excess revenues into the state budget earlier this year, but vowed to stick the rest into state reserves.

“We want to be sure we have a complete picture of what our budget commitments will look like before we interrupt the budget process and start spending funds in an ad hoc way,” said Dave Smith, a Haslam spokesman. “That shouldn’t be done from a quick-fix perspective.”

The governor told the Chattanooga Times Free Press earlier this month he wants to turn his attention to finding a better way to fund higher education.