:Chattanooga; :Dec 8, 2009; :Front Page; :1

Financial hole deepens for UT system

By Joan Garrett jgarrett@timesfreepress.com

Online: Hear Jan Simek talk about differential tuition at UT schools. Read previous stories. Comment.

    When federal stimulus money runs out in 2011, the University of Tennessee system will face a $112 million budgetary shortfall, more than one-fifth of its total state funding, UT Interim President Jan Simek said Monday.

    The financial crisis may cause officials to begin charging higher tuition for academic majors such as nursing, pre-law, pre-medicine and accounting, which cost more money to operate and also offer more money-making potential for graduates, he said.

    “We are still not in black ink as a state,” said Dr. Simek, who spoke to a UT board committee on efficiency and effectiveness that was meeting at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. “We are going to face another budget cut next year, so we are going to have to do something to try to raise revenues, and tuition will have to be one of the pieces.

    “A student invests in their future when they come to college, and therefore, if the return is higher, I think it is not unfair to ask that (their) investment be a little bit bigger,” he said. “That is what
differential tuition is about.”

    Differential tuition always has existed, he said. Students in medical school and law school pay more than other graduate students. But the concept has not been extended to undergraduate studies in Tennessee, Dr. Simek said.

    In addition to higher tuition for certain majors, the overall tuition gap among UT schools may widen, he said.

    “We already have differential tuition between campuses,” he said. “There may well be more of that.”

    He said some programs could see a tuition hike as soon as this fall, although it is too early to say what the new prices would be.

    “You have to do a study and show the marketability of it, look at what other institutions are doing,” he said.

    Some students said charging more for certain majors could drive people away from those majors.

    “That is kind of pigeonholing people,” said Jared Chambers, a senior in anthropology at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. “What if someone from a poor family wants to be a doctor?”

    Dr. Simek said raising tuition, even in individual programs, is necessary for the system to stay afloat financially.

    UT’s financial outlook has worsened in recent months as the state’s revenue shortfall continues to worsen. Until now, Dr. Simek has predicted a $66 million deficit in 2011.

    With the looming budgetary cliff, Dr. Simek has said more than 500 positions within the UT system will be eliminated. He is unsure how many of those will be layoffs.

    And students’ academic experience could change dramatically, he said.

    “We are still looking at reducing the number of classes available; we are looking at bigger classes; we are looking at students having to structure their programs much more, expanding the academic day so students have to go early in the morning or late at night,” he said. “There may be no other way to do this so they have access to the classes they need.”

Jan Simek