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A mixed review of Tennessee higher education


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WMOT)  --  A higher education official delivered a mixed evaluation of Governor Bill Haslam’s reform efforts during comments before the state Senate Education Committee Wednesday.

Dr. Russ Deaton with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission began his comments by saying the governor’s reforms have “dramatically altered the landscape of higher education” in the state.

Much of what Dr. Deaton reported was positive. He noted, for example, that the number of college freshmen needing to take remedial math courses has fallen 14 percent in just four years.

Deaton also says the number of Tennesseans attending college has risen sharply.

“Historically, those numbers are in the high 50s – of our high school graduates go to college. Sixty-four percent is what we estimate now. That would probably put Tennessee in the top ten across the U.S. and that’s an extraordinary number as well."

On the down side, Dr. Deaton says students are today shouldering far more of the cost of attending college. He notes that in 2006 the state covered about half of all higher education costs, but today covers only about a third of those expenses.

Deaton notes that higher education funding in Tennessee has remained essentially flat for the last three decades, while at the same time productivity has soared.

“If you look at those revenues per graduate – per outcome, per degree produced – we’re spending less today that we did 20 and 30 years ago. So over time, our schools are getting more efficient in the production of degrees.”

Dr. Deaton concluded his comments by noting that Governor Haslam has actually asked for more money for higher education in his proposed budget than the school's requested. As a result, he says any possible tuition increases for the coming school year will be among the lowest Tennessee students have seen in a decade.