I have really mixed feelings about state Sen. Jim Summerville's intention to freeze tuition at state colleges and universities. The Times-Free Press reports:
Acting on Gov. Bill Haslam’s recommendations, the state increased higher education from state appropriations by $108.6 million this year. That includes about $35 million for the state’s revamped funding formula — the first real increase in years.
Other portions of the $108.6 million went toward salary increases, higher health insurance costs among other things.
Summerville said his “Tennessee College Students’ Tuition Relief Act” is currently in the drafting stage but will freeze tuition for several years, but provided no specifics on exactly how long.
But he said his bill will include cost reduction recommendations. They could include what he called “top-heavy” administrative office expenses and “excessive salary packages” for college coaches.
Yes, the cost of college has gotten outrageously expensive, and even state schools can be priced out of reach of most kids. It wasn't that long ago that a person could put themselves through a state school with a good summer job and a part-time job during the school year and finish school with no debt. But that's impossible these days. If you have to pay your own way through school, you're going to have debt when you graduate.
So, I'm glad Summerville is addressing this. But as the article states, it's not like tuition has been going up just because. We haven't increased how much money the state gives our state schools in years, and yet, more students go to college these days. It's basic math. If your expenses grow but your funding stays the same, you have to come up with the difference somewhere. Our state schools have been doing this by raising tuition.
If they can't raise tuition what happens? Do kids end up going to classes in crumbling buildings? Do universities reduce the number of kids they admit? Are Republicans going to continue to increase funding for higher ed? Where is the needed money going to come from?
Sure, Summerville talks a good game now about cutting coaching salaries, but we have contracts with folks that we have to abide by. And we live in a state where people sing 'Rocky Top' at their weddings, where men who've never been to college drive orange pickup trucks, and where the governor's brother gave $10 million to UT's athletic programs.
The Vols went 1-7 in their conference last year. Is Summerville really going to stand in front of the state and tell them, "It's not just a bad season; it's the new normal"? I have a feeling that could make Summerville the most unpopular man in the state.