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"Everything's on the table," say regents, as they look for possible cuts

March 4, 2003

Enrollment caps, tuition increases, retirement incentives, merged programs and the elimination of state money for sports programs were suggested Friday as ways the Tennessee Board of Regents colleges and universities could cope with severe funding cuts.

"Everything is on the table," TBR Vice Chair Jack Fishman said. "That doesn't mean we are going to lock these doors. It doesn't mean we are going to do this or that.

"This is the beginning of what we can do as a Board of Regents to meet the legislature and governor's budget demands."
March 4, 2003

Enrollment caps, tuition increases, retirement incentives, merged programs and the elimination of state money for sports programs were suggested Friday as ways the Tennessee Board of Regents colleges and universities could cope with severe funding cuts.

"Everything is on the table," TBR Vice Chair Jack Fishman said. "That doesn't mean we are going to lock these doors. It doesn't mean we are going to do this or that.

"This is the beginning of what we can do as a Board of Regents to meet the legislature and governor's budget demands."

At a time when Tennessee is preparing to launch a state lottery that would provide scholarships to send more Tennesseans to college, there may be fewer places to go.

A special panel of TBR board members, university and college presidents and staff met Friday to discuss long-term changes in the 180,000-student system in the face of ever more dramatic state budget cuts.

"We are not about to abandon our mission," Vice Chancellor David Gregory said of the regents' historical open-door policy to educate all Tennesseans.

But the panelists said they wanted to study limiting enrollment for the first time at TBR universities, essentially forcing students into less-expensive two-year colleges.

The panel also said it wanted to consider regionalizing higher education by sharing programs, classes, instructors and space among universities and colleges.

"We never talk about it because we all want to protect our own turf," Bill Locke, president of Northeast State Technical Community College, said in making the recommendation. But he said the regents can no longer "nickel and dime (the budget problem); we have to look at it as a whole."

For the past several years, TBR schools and the separate University of Tennessee system have responded to state funding shortages with tuition increases.

More of the same can be expected next year if the suggestions of the panel are born out.

The panel requested a study on the impact of tuition increases from 10 percent to 15 percent for universities and colleges and as much as doubled tuition for technical schools.

Still, Walters State Community College President Jack Campbell said that wouldn't go far in offsetting predicted budget cuts next year.

Meanwhile, Fishman worried that another round of tuition hikes will make Tennessee's schools more expensive than their counterparts in neighboring states, further fueling a migration of Tennessee's best and brightest students.

Yet the budget situation is so extreme that the regents panel posed the possibility of diverting about $24 million in state appropriations devoted to athletics to other programs, or at least the money that goes to support football programs.

East Tennessee State University President Paul Stanton made the suggestion, saying the schools could charge student fees to cover the cost of football. The cost for an ETSU student would be about $104.

The panel also talked about reducing payroll by offering early retirement incentives, such as extended health care coverage, to departing employees.

Members also wanted to consider raising employees' share of health insurance costs.

Gov. Phil Bredesen's administration anticipates a potential $780 million deficit next year and is looking to higher education to absorb about $100 million of itabout a 9 percent cut.

The TBR system would lose $57 million and UT about $37 million.

"The governor made it very clear, 'Don't expect any more money down the pike,'" said Regent Bill Watkins of Memphis. "This is a permanent cut."

The panel members planned to meet in a few weeks to further review the budget options.

"The Board of Regents the last 10 or 12 years has been underfunded at a time when the economy was very strong in the country, and our neighboring states were funding higher education at a more adequate level than Tennessee," Fishman said.

"As a consequence, if you are underfunded in good times now in slower times we have got to figure out how we are going to arrange the chairs on the Titanic. It is more devastating," he said.

"I do not believe we can continue doing business as usual," TBR Chancellor Charles Manning said.