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Universities brace for baby boom “echo”

2/25/2002
February 25, 2002

Approximately 4,000 new freshmen are expected to surge through Tennessee colleges by 2006, reports the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC). And according to Dr. Houston Davis, assistant vice president for academic affairs at Austin Peay, says, THEC numbers released are “just scratching the surface.”

“Austin Peay, Montgomery County and the surrounding areas are not just faced with challenges brought by the baby boom echo,” he says. “They have the added pressures of an increased population due to domestic migration and a relatively young population.”

APSU is fortunate to be located in a growing and dynamic region of the state, Davis says. “The potential is there to have a period of growth similar to those experienced by other four-year institutions in the 1980s and 1990s.”

But without increased funding, the University may not be able to meet the educational needs of the incoming students. Students are growing increasingly frustrated by ever-escalating fees.

“Increased tuition and fees have held campus budgets together for the last few years,” Davis says. “From 1993 to 2001, revenue from tuition and fees increased 72 percent in Tennessee, while revenue from state appropriations increased 27 percent.

“Unless Tennessee makes a bigger commitment to higher education, the only recourse that campuses have is continued reliance upon tuition and fees for improvement dollars.”

Universities also will have to evaluate space and resources to handle the predicted influx of students, according to Davis. “One obvious area to evaluate is the ability of the campus to grow from a classroom and instructor perspective. Within those disciplines that are experiencing increasing enrollments in courses and programs, Austin Peay is analyzing how prepared we are to provide the necessary sections and time slots.

Davis says expansion of distance education programs may help fill some of the gaps, “especially in reaching the growing 25- to 44-year-old population in Montgomery County. Continued development of Web-based courses remains central to the goals of APSU.

A final consideration is housing. In the fall of 2003, APSU will open new housing that will accommodate 300 more students, Davis says. “This addition will relieve crowded dorm space and update the look of housing on the APSU campus.”