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Private Colleges Offer a Creative Solution to Pending Enrollment Surges [OP-ED]

It has been reported that Tennessee's higher education community must prepare itself for an additional 9,000 high school graduates by 2010. If the college-going rate remains the same, this will translate into an additional 4,100 college students. However, the college going rate must increase beyond this number if Tennessee hopes to compete in attracting new and higher paying jobs currently being lost to other states with better educated workforce pools. According to the state's top educators, Tennessee's public higher education community is not prepared to handle an influx of students. This is evidenced by the current trend toward enrollment caps at many of our public institutions and sluggish funding support from the Tennessee Legislature. Stated succinctly, the public colleges are currently unable to handle the number of students desiring to go to college; key public higher education officials assert that they will not be able to handle the expected influx of additional students; the current percentage of Tennesseans holding a 4 year college degree is among the lowest in the nation. Is there a solution which will address the elasticity of enrollment trends, address the state-wide need to higher education access, and improve the percentage of degree recipients without building or expanding another public college campus? The answer is "yes" and it is found in the private sector. Enrollment has been on the rise for Tennessee's non-profit independent colleges and universities for the past ten years. In 1991 the private college enrollment in Tennessee was 45,233; by 2001 the enrollment had climbed to 53,871. Fifty percent of the nearly 54,000 students are Tennessee residents. The 35 member colleges and universities that make-up the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association (TICUA) are preparing for continued growth. According to a recent survey, TICUA member colleges are currently involved in the planning or construction of over $500 million in capital projects. These campus improvements range from science labs, civic arenas, to student housing. Many of the private colleges currently have the capacity to increase their student enrollments and most of the campuses' strategic plans call for additional students over the next ten years. All of these increased educational services are being accomplished with no direct subsidy from the state's budget. If we look at our neighboring states we see that higher education is addressed in a more interrelated manner. There is robust funding for the public institutions, but there is also the option for state residents to gain