MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - A college education in Tennessee is getting costlier, but not if Democratic lawmakers have their way. They want Governor Bill Haslam to end their summer break and pull the plug on rising college tuition.
Students will be back in class in a matter of weeks. For many their tuition will be at least four percent higher. The University of Tennessee’s Board of Trustees, of which Haslam is chair, voted to increase tuition.
“It's not going to help a student for us to go back into session in January to deal with a tuition bill they had to pay the previous August,” said Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney.
Finney wants Governor Haslam to call a special legislative session. That will give Democrats another shot at preventing tuition increases.
“We now know that we have more unallocated tax revenue than we first thought. That information is new since we first ended the session the first day of May,” Finney said.
Tennessee should collect 225 million dollars this year, more than enough to cover rising tuition costs.
“You can also lower sales tax on food an additional point and still have tens of millions left over,” Finney said.
State Senator Jim Kyle says it's a no-brainer.
“Every person that gets a technical degree, an Associate’s degree from a community college or a degree from a four year school helps the Tennessee economy. And we don't need to be pushing them down; we need to be helping them up,” Kyle said.
Governor Haslam is not likely to go along. He wants more studies on the issue. Lawmakers can convene a special session if two thirds of them agree. Democrats make up half that number and would have to persuade Republicans.
They say the Democrats' latest efforts are political.
“This is yet another desperate political move to try to gain favor with Tennessee voters. The fact is, Tennessee Democrats are out of touch and out of ideas,” said Adam Nickas, Executive Director of the Tennessee Republican Party.
Here are the tuition increases UT's Board of Trustees approved:
- UT Chattanooga – 6 percent increase or $324 a year more for in-state undergraduates ($5,722 a year total) and $388 a year more for in-state graduate students ($6,860 a year total)
- UT Knoxville – 8 percent increase or $578 a year more for in-state undergraduates ($7,802 a year total) and $668 a year more for in-state graduate students ($9,000 a year total)
- UT Martin – 6 percent increase or $338 a year more for in-state undergraduates ($5,978 a year total) and $405 a year more for in-state graduate students ($7,130 a year total)
- UT Health Science Center – 4 percent for in-state and out-of-state tuition for all colleges
- UT Veterinary Medicine – 10 percent increase or $1,941 a year more for in-state students and $4,326 a year more for out-of-state students
The state's Board of Regents will vote on a tuition hike next week. The board oversees six universities, community colleges and tech centers.
The extra 225 million dollars Tennessee will collect this year may be put in the state's reserve fund if it's not used to offset rising tuition.