Calling higher education one of his top priorities, Gov. Bill Haslam used Monday’s State of the State address to unveil a handful of programs that aim to get more Tennesseans into college.
Higher education officials from across the state praised Haslam’s speech, and his budget, Monday evening. Russ Deaton, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, said Haslam effectively juggled new projects and funding for the state’s colleges.
“A lot of states are struggling with how to piece together the various pillars of higher ed financing,” Deaton said. Haslam, on the other hand, offered “a coherent budget in the sense that it really pieces together those different pillars.”
Many pieces of Haslam’s budget draw from the success of Tennessee Promise, which offers eligible high school seniors the chance to attend one of the state’s community colleges without paying tuition.
Haslam’s budget proposal includes $1.5 million to bankroll a pilot program that would extend the offer of Tennessee Promise to adults with some college credit. Haslam also said that adults would be able to attend a Tennessee College of Applied Technology tuition-free starting this fall.
The budget also included $400,000 for the Tennessee Promise Bridge program, which would bring first-generation college students to campus the summer before their first semester. Haslam said the experience would help ensure the students’ success in college.
The governor granted THEC’s $25.7 million request for funding to reward colleges for graduation rates and other student outcomes. That money should keep tuition at state schools from rising more than 4 percent next year, officials said.
More than $260 million of Haslam’s budget will go toward construction projects at colleges statewide. And $19.5 million will go toward raises for higher education officials.
“It’s wonderful for all of higher education,” said Butch Peccolo, chief financial officer for the University of Tennessee system.
During his speech Monday evening, Haslam said the robust investment in higher education would pay off in the workforce.
“The reason we continue to make these investments in education is we want Tennesseans to have the education, training and skills necessary to have a good-paying, high-quality job,” he said, later adding, “There is nothing more important to our state than getting education right.”
Reach Adam Tamburin at 615-726-5986 and on Twitter @tamburintweets.