Tag Archives: college

Analysis: TN State of the State #TNSOTS2014

Unicorns and daisies in stunning monochrome

Unicorns and daisies in stunning monochrome®

So last night Gov. Bill Haslam delivered his 4th State of the State address of his term.

It was the same kind of “long on promises and short on details” self-congratulatory affair that we’ve come to expect from the Governor, complete with that good ole fiscal conservatism that says tax cuts for people who don’t miss the money are better than services for people who need them.

It was only imaginative in the way it manipulated or simply omitted facts to further a narrative of success that most people haven’t felt yet.

The Governor talked a lot about education. Nearly half of the speech was about it in some way or another. But to start, we should probably cover some of the other topics, so they don’t get lost in the mix.

Long List of “Accomplishments”

The Governor started off with a long list of “accomplishments”. Real long. Like almost two pages of them.

Lots of accolades from being named 3rd best managed state in the nation (I couldn’t find that, but I did find us at 16th last year which is better than most, that one needs a citation.

He also noted our award for state of the year from Business Facilities Magazine. The magazine notes the state brought in 6900 new jobs, but that’s less than 3% of the 237,700 people who were looking for work in December. Hardly a stellar performance for the people actually looking for jobs.

Haslam also hailed the drop in space state offices occupy. He says this will save the state money. Unfortunately, even his own numbers, as reported by NC5 in Nashville, tell a very different story. NC5 could only find about $450,000/year of savings, and further found the math the Governor has used is more than a little fuzzy. Good to know as we head into the budget section of the presentation.

$260m + -$340m = cut taxes

Haslam laid out new revenues for the upcoming year of $260m. Of course, his projections for this year are already $171m off the mark, so who knows if this is real or more fuzzy math from the Governor.

He also laid out $340m in new spending ($180m in Tenncare, $40m in employee health insurance, and $120m for education). That leaves an $80m hole in the budget.

The Governor defended tax cuts for estate taxes and the Hall income tax as “revenue growth” policies. This is a common GOP refrain, that makes no sense and that has been proven wrong over and over again.

Gov. Haslam offered no proposal that would cover the $80m dollar shortfall, so there’s that.

Education policy du jour

Of course, education was a huge part of the speech, since that’s the one thing just about everyone agrees the state should pay for (within limits). The Governor hailed the gains in the state’s overall TCAP scores for 2013. There’s no question that seeing scores go up is a positive, but a seven point jump in two years when the national average is only one point, should be a cause for skepticism. Further, going back to 2003, the states scores have increased by 12 points (seven of those between 2011 and 2013).

Had the gains been a gradual upswing (they weren’t) they would seem to be the result of a policy decision. But a seven point swing in two years looks more like an outlier than a trend. This is something we’ll have to watch more in the coming years to see if a trend is actually established. My gut tells me no. The state scores have hovered in the same 3 point swing zone since 2005.

He also hit on all the “blame the teachers” policies his administration has been pushing since 2011, and vouchers…something drains resources from already under-resourced public schools.

Tennessee Promises, Promises

The biggest attention grabber was the “Tennessee Promise” program. Under this plan, high school students would be given two years of free tuition at a two-year school to get an associates degree. If they chose to move on to a four-year institution, they could begin as a junior.

On the face of it, this seems like a good and progressive idea. Get kids who might not have the resources or the grades to make it in a four-year school to get their feet wet in a two-year school, and parlay that success into higher educational attainment overall.

But he devil is in the details, and the plan to use money from the Tennessee Lottery Scholarship fund raised the ire of the panned the funding idea because it would drain the fund, and possibly hurt four-year institutions in the state, by draining away college Freshmen and Sophomores.

I’m also skeptical about the “endowment fund” that would pay for this program. How will the endowment be administered? Will it have a board packed with cronies like just about every other government institution in the state? What happens if it runs out of money?

Seems to me, the money would be better spent as intended…to fully fund college, and that more money should be allocated to higher education to bring tuition costs down, and maybe even attract out of state students that pay way more than in-state students do.

As for the Community Colleges, they’re critically important, no doubt. But shouldn’t they be focused on the things they’re already successful at…providing access to some General Ed. courses for students and graduating students who aren’t on a four-year track.

On a political note, the idea that this General Assembly would pass a bill that amounts to a new entitlement is cute. I don’t see it happening.

So there it is. The state of the state. The response from the House Democratic Caucus can be found here.

Morning Coffee – Way Too Early Edition

The dial on the clock says 5:30, even though this isn’t going to publish until around nine, this is how the day begins just about every morning. This morning is a little different. Now that schools out for a few weeks I have more time to work, which is good for my bank account, but not good for plenty of other things.

So since I’ve been a little out of the loop for the past few days, I want to take this opportunity to riff on something that’s near and dear to my heart, going to college.

Way back in fall of 1990 I started college for the first time. Even though my parents weren’t able to contribute much financially, I qualified for several scholarships that made it possible to go to school. One scholarship was based on my ACT score, and basically paid for my tuition, which at the time was just $700 a semester. The other was a scholarship that I received from the Music department. I was a music major at the time and they recruited me pretty hard. Finally, I was also eligible for some Pell grants and other financial aid.

At the time, I was like most entering Freshmen, young and stupid, away from home for the first time. I over-scheduled myself and basically did everything wrong imaginable. Still, my GPA wasn’t that bad even though my attendance in class was spotty at best. Sometime in the Spring of 1992, then President George H. W. Bush pushed for tightening the requirements on Pell Grants. Suddenly, that money was gone in Fall of 1992, and between that and several other circumstances, I dropped out.

Flash forward to almost exactly a year ago today. Nearly 18 years after I left school I made the decision to go back. There are a lot of reasons for the decision, but mostly, I realized that while I liked my job, I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing. I was merely going through the motions. I was unhappy, and I wanted a change. I spent August through December winding down my business, and in January I took a part time job and enrolled in 9 hours at University of Memphis.

There were some things I wasn’t prepared for, but the biggest thing was the cost. At $300/credit hour, taking one class now costs more than a full time load at ASU in 1990. I thought maybe, eventually, I would qualify for some Financial Aid, but as of right now, that’s not happening. The best I can hope for is to loan my way through this school year, and hope my income is high enough to survive, but low enough to eventually qualify for something.

My GPA is hovering around 3.25 (transfer and current), and my income has been cut in less than half. When school starts in a couple of weeks, I will have paid nearly $8000 in tuition this year. But even though I’ve appealed my FAFSA score, its looking like loans are the only option, for at least another year. This is discouraging to me.

On Sunday, Sen. Jim Kyle wrote an op-ed in the Knoxville News that talked about the lottery scholarship. I had hoped that after my appeal I would qualify, but now three weeks after the appeal process, it looks like that isn’t going to happen. Based on the criteria on the TN Lottery Scholarship site I should qualify based on my income appeal. Maybe there’s something I’m missing. This whole financial aid thing is highly confusing to me.

Last summer, when Sen. Kyle announced his candidacy for Governor, he talked about making lottery scholarship money more available to people like me, who are less that 60 hours away from a degree, to finish school. Like the Op-Ed, he noted at the announcement speech that the fastest way to increase the number of people with bachelor’s degrees was to get people who have started back into school. He also noted that increasing the overall education level of the state was one way to attract more economic development, better higher paying jobs, to the state. His speech was part of my inspiration for going back.

I’m not giving up, but I am discouraged. I knew this would be hard when I started it, but I had no idea it would be financially crippling. If Tennessee is serious about increasing the percentage of people with college degrees, our legislators have to stop looking at the lottery scholarship fund as a means to whatever short term end they have at the moment, and make those scholarships available to more people like myself, who are trying to finish school, but have limited earning potential due to the time commitment of school.

I don’t think anyone realizes just how much of an investment, in time and money, it is for a nearly 40-something to go back and do this. It’s been hard, but also rewarding. The key is to not make it so hard, so financially crippling, that people can’t make the decision to go back and finish. Based on my experience so far, that is the case.

Hopefully in the next session they’ll make it easier…if not for me, at least for the next guy or gal that decides to take the plunge.

Ok, on to the Coffee…

Mike McWherter was in Memphis yesterday and talking about expanding pre-k programs in the state as well as business poaching that Mississippi seems to be so god at.

Haslam’s still running away from his GOP nomination. I wonder why he didn’t include Don Sundquist in that list?

Both of my parents are on Social Security, and they’ll come down on these people like a ton of bricks if they don’t shut the hell up.

Joe Powell with part 2 of his indentured servitude series.

And finally, someone please go pull a petition against this guy. No, not you Richard Fields.

Have a great day, see ya on the flip!

Screening of ‘Papers’ At MTSU

From Hispanic Nashville, there will be a screening of a documentary called “Papers.”

Can you imagine graduating from high school with all of your friends, in a country that may be all you’ve ever known, only to realize that you do not have the same opportunities as your peers? You do not qualify for financial assistance to pursue that important college education that has been impressed upon you during your high school years, nor will you have an easy time trying to find a job to support yourself…all because of ‘Papers’.

The Delta Iota Chapter of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc.
presents: Undocumented, Uneducated.


Date: Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Time: 7:00pm – 10:00pm
Location: Business and Aerospace (BAS) Building, State Farm Room (S102)
Middle Tennessee State University
City/Town: Murfreesboro, TN

Here is a snippet from the film:

Making Completion a Priority

From the Governor’s Office:

“Tennessee is well positioned to be a leader in this area because of the work we already have underway to achieve the goal of improved college completion rates,” Bredesen said. “We know what’s at stake if we don’t do better. Our economy hinges on our ability to develop a more skilled workforce and, more fundamentally, to give our kids a quality education so they can earn a good living. I’m pleased Tennessee has the opportunity to become even more involved in this effort.”


As a member of the Alliance, Tennessee will receive tangible and practical support to help implement a range of strategies that will bring needed changes in the culture and practices of its public postsecondary institutions. Alliance states will also receive in-depth technical support from America’s leading experts on improving college success, including assistance in building consensus for reform, developing policy action plans and guidance on applying for and effectively using federal funding to produce more degrees.

The math is simple, states with more people holding Bachelor’s degrees attract more and better jobs to their state. Cities, Counties, and Towns prosper better under these circumstances. Even rural America can benefit from higher post-secondary degree attainment. If we can get our numbers up, this could be a huge win for the state.

Upping the Ante

Knoxnews republishes an article from the Chattanooga Times Free Press about a proposed bill that would increase the number of hours necessary to be considered a full-time student in Tennessee Colleges.

The two resolutions, sponsored by state Sen. Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville, and state Rep. Joe McCord, R-Maryville, would increase the credit hours required to be a full-time student from 12 to 14 and change the credit-hour requirements for receiving the Tennessee HOPE scholarship.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga officials said, if passed, the legislation could send shock waves through the state’s higher education community.

“This would have significant implications all over the place,” said UTC Provost Phil Oldham. “Although good in intent to increase the graduation rate, it actually might be pretty difficult to implement, because the federal government defines full-time status as 12 semester hours and that is not going to change by state legislation.”

As a non-traditional student, who has to work to go to school, I can tell you that the 9 hours I’m taking, in addition to the 30+ hours a week that I’m working, is kicking my butt.

While the intent of this legislation may be to move people in and out of state colleges and universities faster, I think the ultimate result is going to be higher drop-out rates and fewer people qualifying for HOPE scholarships. We should be making it easier to to go to college, so we can have a better educated population and by extension,. attract better business opportunities for our people, not make it harder for people who are already struggling to get a college education.