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Tennessee higher ed must become “leaner and meaner”

September 10, 2001

The first in a series of statewide meetings on the future of Tennessee higher education was held last Thursday, Sept. 4, before a nearly full house in the concert theatre of Austin Peay's music/mass communication building.

The meeting was co-hosted by President Sherry Hoppe and Bobby Sullivan, director of the Tennessee Technology Center, Dickson, with special guest, Dr. Charles Manning, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents.

The effort, “Defining the Future of Higher Education in Tennessee,” was initiated by legislative mandate that all public higher education institutions must come up with solutions that enable them to operate more efficiently because of the seeming inevitability that higher education will receive no increase in state funding in the foreseeable future.

A higher education “summit” in late October will conclude the series town hall meetings. Recommendations from the summit will go to the Tennessee Board of Regents in December and, if approved, to the legislature in January 2002.

According to Manning, more than 150 possible ideas for producing cost-savings originally were brought to the table. From them, the following are submitted as possible recommendations: limiting enrollment, eliminating under-performing and duplicative high-cost programs, reducing the number of hours required for degrees, enhancing the sharing of regional resources, moving remedial and developmental courses to community colleges and technical institutes, limiting new academic programs, restricting or eliminating new delivery sites, ensuring automatic transfer of core coursework.

Several community and civic leaders attended the town meeting, and some voiced a concern about how the educational level of the populace and access to education directly and indirectly affect economic growth and societal development.

Among those who called for caution when looking at cutting the higher education budget were Jim Mann, president of First Federal Savings Bank and president of the Chamber of Commerce; George Halford, executive director of the Economic Development Council and Chamber of Commerce; and Evans Harvill, former Regent and son of the late APSU President Halbert Harvill.

Several students, parents of students, faculty and staff expressed various opinions about how APSU and TBR can operate more efficiently. Perhaps the most vocal opposition was to the recommendation that remedial and development programs be moved from all four-year universities to community colleges and technical institutes.

While not opposed to removing remedial courses from universities, Dr. Aleeta Christian, director of the APSU's developmental studies program, cited statistics on the relatively high number of APSU students who, with a little “brushing up” through a course or two in developmental math or English, go on to earn a degree.

She and others noted that APSU's large nontraditional population and some of the University's military students may need short-term assistance before they are able to get back into a study mode because they have been out of high school for several years.

In her remarks, Hoppe emphasized that, although it is essential to find ways to cut the higher education budget without shifting more of the burden to students through tuition and fees, it also is essential to maintain both quality and accessibility of higher education in Tennessee, a state with a population well below the national mean in educational attainment, ranking 41 out of 50 states in citizens with at least a bachelor's degree