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What Is the Future for Tennessee Higher Education? [OP-ED]

If you take time to look at the facts it's hard to be optimistic about the future of Tennessee higher education. Three tumultuous years of state budget battles resulted in staggering tuition increases at the public colleges and universities. Even this fall, with one of the largest tax increases in the state's history, public colleges still increased their tuition by 7.5% in order to makeup for the lack of state support. Tennessee does have a rich resource in its private colleges and universities. However, this sector has been largely ignored when it comes to addressing how more state residents can be educated in a time of limited resources. Currently, the state's private colleges are educating over 27,000 Tennesseans and import another 27,000 students from all over the world, all with no direct state support. Their inclusion in new strategies for the future seems only logical. Meanwhile, Tennessee continues to fall behind. Tennessee has one of the lowest higher education attainment rates in the nation (19.6%). The college going rate of low-income students is among the lowest in the nation (18.1%). Even so, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission is calling for enrollment caps because of insufficient funds to meet the needs of a growing population needing a college degree. The long-term impact on the state's ability to attract new high technology jobs could be devastating unless something happens right away. Tennessee needs to begin to prepare itself for new economy jobs that require high skilled workers with four-year college degrees. It is time for some serious leadership. On Monday, September 16, 2002 candidates for Tennessee Governor will layout their plans for higher education at the Summit on the Future of Tennessee Higher Education to be held at Lipscomb University in Nashville. The candidates will interact with a panel consisting of college presidents from the private and public sectors, as well as a corporate leader and a college senior. Expectations are high. Tennessee's Governor serves as the state's top educator who carries the vision for our future. The state's higher education community is waiting anxiously for a new and vibrant vision for the state's higher education future. The Summit needs to be a launching pad for a new day, not a disappointment filled with status-quo rhetoric. Our message is clear: our sleeves are rolled-up and we are ready to get to work with a true leader who has a vision for the future of Tennessee higher education.