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Tennessee Colleges Adjust to New Funding Formula

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (Anfinson) -- Record numbers of college freshmen are enrolled at state schools across Tennessee, but a legislative change in arithmetic means a new economy of results will replace the long-used economy of scale.

Enrollment at TBR colleges rose over 26 percent between 2001 and 2011. Prior to recent legislation, public funding was tied to student enrollment, but passage of the Complete College Tennessee Act changes that calculus.  State appropriation is now based on retention and graduation rates rather than the number of students.

MTSU President, Dr. Sidney McPhee, says the new funding formula means it’s time to rethink school operations and structure.

“It makes it more important than ever for us to focus upon attracting more students who are best equipped for college and as such, are more likely to graduate. And it becomes even more critical that we develop support systems, effective support systems, that help all of our students succeed.”

Some ideas on the table include slowing the growth of the freshman class, raising standards to target high-achieving students, and increasing the number of graduate, foreign and transfer students. Administrators are gambling on the odds that time-tested and well-prepared students will stay in school and graduate on time.

Associate Professor of Higher Education at Vanderbilt University, William Doyle, says that colleges have gotten better at providing access to students, yet student success rates have fallen short of graduation goals.

With the Complete College Tennessee Act, Tennessee is one of the first states to try and tackle this problem. But Professor Doyle and others in his field don’t want to see this happen on the backs of students.

“One possible way to solve this problem is simply by not changing what’s happening inside the campus but changing the kind of students who come to the campus… If you want a more educated work force then you have to work with the citizens and the students who are within the state.”

MTSU is trying to keep better track of the students it has. The school’s Academic Counselors and the Academic Alert programs allow faculty to communicate directly with students who may be struggling. MTSU is hopeful the programs will improve student performance and keep state funds rolling in.

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