Tag Archives: Higher Education

Haslam’s Tuition Plan Shows Little Promise

Shiny Community College Push More Spin Than Substance

Trust MeBill Haslam is the most shameful kind of politician.

Don’t get me wrong. Haslam is surely a nice man. He’s probably a good father and husband. He presents well.

But his politics are shameful because, rather than fighting for the families he represents, he masterfully peddles false hope.

The most egregious example of Haslam’s hope peddling is, of course, Medicaid expansion.

Medicaid Expansion

Nearly a year ago, Haslam, in a big speech to the General Assembly, promised working families living without health coverage — more than 465,000 parents and children in Tennessee — that his office would submit a plan to get their families access to Medicaid coverage.

A year later, Haslam still peddles false hope talking about how hard he is trying. But he has refused to even produce a plan for public review. Leaders in the legislature filed an open records request to lay bare Haslam’s delay tactics.

Tennessee Promise

Much like his earlier initiatives, Haslam’s latest promise — a program to boost college graduation rates to 55% — is more publicity machine than actual plan.

Let me break it down for you. Haslam’s plan, called Tennessee Promise, would allow every high school graduate to attend community college free of charge for two years.

It sounds great when you hear it. But when you start scratching past the surface, you immediately uncover some inconvenient truths.

Tenn. Community Colleges Underperform Public Four-Year Colleges

Tennessee has the fifth lowest community college graduation rate in the nation. Only 8 percent of students graduate in two years and only 11.3 percent of students graduate within three years.

By comparison, nearly 20 percent of students graduate on time at four-year colleges and 45.5 percent of students graduate within six years — quadruple the rate.

Wow. Right? Public universities are four times more effective at getting students a degree than community colleges. The difference in graduation rates is even more pronounced among blacks and Latinos.

Breakthrough Collaborative, a national organization focused on boosting college graduation rates among underserved communities, issued a white paper in 2009 explaining why they focus on four-year college programs vs. community college.

“It is true that once students have their bachelor’s degrees, it makes little difference, in terms of earnings potential and job prospects, what path they took to get there. However, the likelihood of earning a bachelor’s degree is significantly reduced if a student starts her post‐secondary education at a community college, and the amount of time it takes to complete a bachelor’s degree (and potentially, the amount of loans a student accrues) is greatly increased. Additionally, research shows that the kinds of students Breakthrough serves—low‐income, minority, first generation—are less likely to transfer from community colleges to four‐year colleges and earn bachelor’s degrees. Therefore, the research supports the fact that students are more likely to complete bachelor’s degrees if they start their post‐secondary educations at four‐year colleges or universities.

If the research says the most effective way to increase college graduation rates is to send student to four-year programs, why does Haslam’s plan focus on the most ineffective way to boost graduation rates?

Mostly Re-Branding

Because it’s not a new plan. It’s just a bit of nifty re-branding.

As The Commercial Appeal’s Wendi Thomas put it, Haslam’s promise is “basically a repackaging of these Wilder-Naifeh technical skills grants and tnAchieves, just expanded.”

Qualifying high school graduates in Tennessee can already get a $3,000 Hope scholarship to cover tuition at state community colleges — that’s about 80 percent of total tuition costs.

Both the Wilder-Naifeh technical skills grants and tnAchieves, which operates in 27 counties, work to close the community college funding gap even more.

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

To make community college completely free, a roughly $800 gap per student, Haslam’s plan raids $300 million from the Hope Scholarship reserves, cuts Hope Scholarships by $1,000 for freshman and sophomores in four-year programs, and hikes tuition rates — again.

An official representing private colleges in Tennessee told WPLN Haslam’s plan isn’t fair to students in four-year programs.

“It’s a very laudable goal for the governor to want to provide access to the community colleges in this way, however, it really shouldn’t be done on the back of the freshmen and sophomores at the university level.”

Perhaps even worse is that Haslam’s funding mechanism raids the lottery scholarship reserves, which fund Hope Scholarships.

The Hope Scholarship was established to send more Tennessee students to four-year colleges. The program has been a smash success.

Unfortunately, Haslam’s new program cripples the Hope Scholarship’s ability to grow. With reserves down to $100 million, there will be no appetite to expand scholarships or increase grants, which is greatly needed due to inflation and year-after-year tuition hikes.

So instead of investing in four-year universities, which are four-times as effective at producing students with degrees, Haslam built a $34 million publicity machine that sounds nice but definitely won’t drive to 55.

Now that sounds like a clunker.

Haslam’s State of the State: Addressing Contradictions

Haslam Two FaceAfter a year of dithering on his stated aim to increase post-secondary graduation rates to 55 percent, Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday finally proposed a program to move toward accomplishing this goal.

Along with it, his budget includes college tuition hikes and scholarship cuts for freshman and sophomores.

Haslam has been using this kind of political doublespeak since he began running for governor four years ago and his State of the State speech Monday night was riddled with more of the same.

‘Tennessee Promise’

Haslam’s big announcement was a new $34 million government program, called Tennessee Promise, which would pay for graduating high school seniors to attend two years of community college free of tuition and fees.

Haslam budgets for the “Promise” by weakening the Hope Scholarship program and hiking tuition rates — again.

If the governor gets his way, Tennessee Promise would divert several hundred million dollars from the Tennessee Lottery reserve that underwrites the Hope Scholarship program. Haslam would also cut Hope Scholarship funding by $1,000 a year for qualifying freshmen and sophomores enrolled in four-year colleges.

To support two-year programs, Haslam’s plan would punish first- and second-year students at four-year universities. It would also severely restrict any future push to expand the successful Hope Scholarship program, which has provided high-performing students reliable tuition assistance, but hasn’t kept pace with inflation.

The father of the Hope Scholarship, now-Congressman Steve Cohen explained the problem with Tennessee Promise in an interview with The Commercial Appeal.

Preparing students to win the jobs of tomorrow is crucial for our state’s economic future, but stealing crucial funding from students and four-year universities to bolster two-year programs misses the point.

More Doublespeak & Contradictions

The ‘Promise’ was a glaring example, but there was plenty more Haslam doublespeak from his speech, where his actions have contradicted his rhetoric.

Teacher Pay: For months the governor has openly bragged about his intention to make Tennessee the “fastest growing” state for teacher pay. He repeated himself again at the State of the State.

Haslam did not mention that this year’s pay raise was financed with savings from the deep cuts Haslam’s administration made to the teacher salary schedule last year.

Taxes: Haslam yowled about a new $80 million budget deficit, but refused to acknowledge that his massive tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, like himself, played any part in creating the deficit.

In fact, Haslam’s tax breaks for the rich, which will dig a $1 billion hole in the state budget over a decade, could have paid for his entire Tennessee Promise program and spared cuts to other vital programs that serve Tennesseans.

But Haslam and the Republican majority would rather cut programs for working families and saddle students with more debt than ask the wealthiest Tennesseans to do their share to invest in our economic future.

Healthcare: Once again, Haslam said how important it was for Tennessee families to have health coverage. He then told Tennessee’s uninsured, working poor to keep dreaming ‘cause Medicaid expansion ain’t happening on his watch.

Best Managed State: Haslam crowed about Tennessee being named third best managed state.

He left out that his Department of Children’s Services failed to respond to children in need or even account for more than a hundred dead children in its care.

Haslam also skimmed past the preventable deaths of disabled Tennesseans in the care of his Department of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities.

Haslam glossed over his office management plan at the Department of General Services, which secured a $330 million no-bid, sweetheart contract for his business pals.

Never said a word about the $73 million of fraudulent and improper payments and crushing backlogs at the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

What did you take away from Haslam’s State of the State?

Brandon Puttbrese is a public relations specialist and former communications director at the Tennessee Democratic Party. Find him on Twitter and Facebook.com

Morning Coffee – Jim Bunning Stole Your Unemployment Check Edition

There are a lot of things in life that are probably ok to be against. Murder and genocide are pretty high on the list. Any kind of assault or burglary is usually not something that society wants to have to put up with.

One thing our society will put up with is blowhards who would stop payments to the unemployed for political purposes.

Sen. Jim Bunning (KY-R) Poses for $5 footlong commercial

Meet Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning (R). Senator Bunning currently is following through with a filibuster of one that is stopping up the extension of unemployment benefits, as well as causing the furlough of a couple thousand highway workers. The reason, an additional $10b of debt that he thinks he can stop by doing this.

Way to help out the economy in a recession, Jim. I mean seriously, where was all this concern when the last President was DOUBLING the national debt. Doesn’t count when your side does it…right?

Gimmie some coffee, extra strong please….

From the I knew they were drinking something up there department; Tom Humphrey reports on the proliferation of booze bills at the State Capitol. After the year we just had, I think everyone deserves a drink or two.

HELP where help is needed – Baker Donelson is providing the homeless with some free legal advice.

Higher Education Editorial – I think it’s a must read.

and finally,

The MED needs a new building, and people to start understanding the value to the community the hospital provides.

Ahhh, I feel better already.