Tennessee Community Colleges first year enrollment goes up – Four year public colleges goes down

The “Tennessee Promise” funding model offers free tuition for students to attend nearby Community and Technical Colleges. As a result  first year enrollment for 2 year colleges increased while 4-Year Public Colleges freshman classes declined. Would The New York State Excelsior Scholarship model, a last dollar funding program for 4 and 2-year public colleges reduce the unintended enrollment and budgetary consequences for public 4-year colleges.

By Dr. Roger Brown – Chancellor Emeritus of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and member of the Edu Alliance Advisory Council

Most college faculty members and administrators, as well as political leaders and employers, support more accessible college educations for qualified students from moderate to low-income families. This article is a comparison of the experience in two states – Tennessee and New York – of free tuition programs for students entering two-year colleges.

The many positive consequences for Tennessee and New York of increased college-going among post-secondary students include: the availability of comparison shopping by students and their families for college educations that do not result in high student loan debt; higher rates of employment in good-paying jobs for which a college education is required; the retention of more college-educated citizens to fill jobs in Tennessee rather than leaving the state for better jobs; and fulfilling needs of employers who are seeking college-educated employees to make their businesses more competitive.

Tennessee’s tuition program for community and technical colleges, known as Tennessee Promise, was the first program in the country (signed into law in 2014) aimed at increasing the college-going rate for students who commit to full-time study at one of the state’s public two-year colleges or technical colleges. According to the most recent state report on Tennessee Promise, the “promise” is being fulfilled.

The program report states, “the statewide college-going rate increased by 4.6 percentage points in the first year of Tennessee Promise implementation, from 57.9 to 62.5 percent. This single-year increase is larger than the past 7 years combined (2007 to 2014). As such, enrollment of first-time freshmen grew between Fall 2014 and Fall 2015. Overall, there was a 10.1 percent increase in postsecondary enrollment across the state, with community colleges experiencing a 24.7 percent increase and TCATs (technical colleges) experiencing a 20 percent increase in first-time student enrollment.” (Tennessee Promise Annual Report 2017, Tennessee Commission on Higher Education, Executive Summary, p. 1.) The program also has been successful in promoting Governor Bill Haslam’s “drive to 55,” which has the goal of increasing the proportion of Tennesseans who complete a college certificate or degree to 55 percent over several years.

However, in Tennessee the funding of “last dollar” financial aid (meaning that the scholarship is awarded to supplement all other forms of financial aid like Pell Grants and individual scholarships) is available only to qualified high school graduates attending two-year colleges not four-year colleges and universities. The result is competition for students between public two-year colleges and public four-year colleges.

In Tennessee, budget officers at four-year public colleges and universities explain that flat or declining enrollments for students in their first two years has a budgetary consequence that is significant. The potential budgetary impacts of declining enrollments at four-year colleges and universities can include among other things fewer faculty members, reduced funding for less popular programs, and postponement of needed maintenance and repairs of campus facilities. (Interviews by author of budget officers at the University of Tennessee, April 28-May 5, 2017.)

The following chart illustrates that the implementation of the Tennessee Promise program was accompanied by a sizable dip in the number of first-time student enrollees in Tennessee’s public four-year colleges and universities.

 Percent Change in First-Time Enrollment at Universities, Fall 2014 to Fall 2015 (Source 2017 Tennessee Promise Annual Report Figure 8 – Page 15)

Tennessee 4 year enrollment decline

An individual campus’s case in point is from one of the universities in the University of Tennessee system that reported that the Tennessee Promise program was accompanied by declining enrollments of first-time students. After two years’ experience with the Tennessee Promise program, our sample campus reported the following enrollment numbers:

 First-time enrollment at one campus of the University of Tennessee system.

Fall 2014:   2160

Fall 2015:   1865 (-13.6% vs. 2014 FTF)

Fall 2016:   2077 (-3.8% vs. 2014 FTF)

As can be seen, first-time enrollment at this four-year campus still has not yet equaled 2014 levels.

New York by comparison is the first state to expand the last dollar tuition program to include four-year public colleges and universities as well as two-year colleges. New York state’s Excelsior Scholarship is a notable exception to the competition between public two-year colleges and four-year colleges and universities for students, as happened in Tennessee’s freshmen enrollments. The Excelsior Scholarship is a last dollar funding program at both four-year and two-year public colleges, Therefore, the competition for students between public four-year colleges and two-year colleges should be alleviated in New York’s system of financial aid to both categories of public colleges. Since 2017 is the first year of the Excelsior Scholarship, increased college-going data are not yet available to compare directly to the Tennessee experience. However, the expected increase in the number of post-secondary New York college graduates will presumably have the same positive consequences as noted above for Tennessee.

Following New York’s example is a first step toward reducing the unintended enrollment and budgetary consequences for public four-year colleges. The implication of New York’s and Tennessee’s experiences suggest that states should consider offering the last dollar financial aid for qualified high school graduates who wish to attend either two-year colleges or four-year institutions.



Dr. Roger G. Brown is Chancellor Emeritus of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC).  During his 7-year tenure enrollment increased over 20%, and Dr. Brown was integral in fundraising that generated $81.2 million for scholarships, professorships, and academic programs. He was the key ambassador for government and community relations.His academic career in political science included faculty positions at Iowa State University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His administrative career included the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke as Provost, and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga as Chancellor.

Dr. Brown has authored numerous publications in his field. For six years, he was a member of the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.  Currently, Dr. Brown is involved in leadership roles at several community nonprofit organizations in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He is a member of the Edu Alliance Advisory Council.





Recruiting and Retaining Educators


Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from the United Arab Emirates to my family, friends, and followers. As 2014 is about to begin, I have been in the UAE for five years and ready to start my sixth year in February.  During this time I have seen a great deal of change in the education profession and have been thinking about the future status of the expatriates who works in the field.  In particular I want to discuss the cost of living and why this may this is now becoming a crisis for retention and recruitment.

 During 2013 a number of significant changes have occurred which affects the education sector as well as others. The Emirization movement transitioned from lip service to an action policy. This is having a significant effect on the hiring or retaining of administrative staff. In some cases schools like federally funded higher education institutions, the administration is directing 30% of the administrative staff be UAE Nationals by the end of 2014. The only way it can be accomplished is to make some current staff redundant and replace them with Emirati’s. At other universities the plan is to hire only UAE National for open positions or new jobs approved. The one area exempt so far is faculty and teachers. This is due to the lack of UAE Nationals who have the necessary academic qualifications or in some cases the lack of interest in joining the K-12 teaching community due to salary and workload.  While this is painful to the expat community I do not object to the concept. It is their country and as long as they can find the qualified personnel to do the job so be it. I think any of us who moved here expected this to happen.

A more significant area of concern is the cost of schooling. In May and June I wrote a series of pieces on the expansion of K-12 schools, job availability and the challenge of hiring qualified teachers. While there is an increase in schools there is a significant increase in fees to attend these schools. In a December 24th article in Emirates 24/7 titled” Letter to Santa: Dubai residents’ X’mas wish list” Bindu Suresh Rai wrote;

The rising school fee has remained a bone of contention with many families who are unable to afford the annual hikes. Added to the annual expense is the cost of books, uniforms, extracurricular fees and monthly miscellaneous expenditures that, some parents calculate, spills into additional thousands of dirhams over and above the tuition. Despite the initiatives taken by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, the cap on school fees still draws a blurred line between commercialization of institutions and the compromise on education for the children involved. Do high fees really promise quality education for our kids, Santa, or is this simply a revenue generating exercise?

 The cost of education in the UAE is rising everywhere.  Most organizations in education sector includes in its package compensation for the cost of education for children in K-12. However, it is not keeping up with the increase in fees and has either stagnated or are being reduced. This will make it increasingly difficult to recruit teachers or university faculty who has children from 5-18.

Possibly the biggest crisis is the cost of housing which is making it difficult to recruit or retain expats. The expats are talking about if they can continue to keep their flats, move into smaller space or leave. Two examples of the cost increase impact are stated in recent news articles. In the 24th of December story titled “UAE property prices in 2013 – will we be forever blowing bubbles?” Lucy Barnard writes;

Rents too, which had started to increase in 2012, were spiraling out of control in Dubai as landlords sought to take advantage of rising prices. Landlords in some locations increased rents for vacant apartments by as much as 40 per cent. And lawyers reported an outbreak of rent disputes between landlords and tenants as the latter complained that they were being asked to pay more than the cap set by Dubai Land Department, prompting the emirate’s Government to open a new rent dispute body to cope with demand. Even Abu Dhabi, suffering from an oversupply of housing built during the global financial crisis, started to experience some increases in house prices and rents, although these were generally limited to the capital’s new master planned areas. Soon Cluttons, the property broker, was reporting price increases of 11.2 per cent during the second quarter and 14.4 per cent in the three months to the end of September, while rents rose 4.5 per cent then 1 per cent over the same periods.

In a more sobering story published in The Gulf News on December 28th titled; “Scrapping of rent cap worries Al Ain residents” by Aftab Kazmi states;

The Abu Dhabi government’s decision to do away with the annual rent cap seems to have left several Al Ain residents reeling. They have sought a proper regulatory mechanism to oversee rents in the city. In some cases, rents have gone up by 20 to 40 per cent, forcing residents to move to cheaper or illegally sub-divided villas in less-than-ideal locations. Private sector employees and small businessmen are the ones to have been affected the most. The cap, which limited yearly rental increases to five per cent, was removed by the Abu Dhabi government last month. Rents are now determined by property managers and landlords. “Property managers are now taking undue advantage and have even withdrawn maintenance services in my building,” Mohammad Farouq, a resident, said.

With no rent increase caps, rental fees are increasing at all locations in the UAE. This may be the case for the next 2-5 years.  The compensation packages by educational institutions generally have housing allowance but are not being increased and contracts signed by most faculty are 2-3 years in length and do not have inflation clauses.

The person who intends to stay in the UAE or is considering working in the region must take these issues into consideration. Human Resources personnel have a real challenge in bringing to the UAE bright and talented personnel. The cost of recruitment is high in the first place and to lose personnel after 1-3 years and then find a qualified replacement is an additional cost.

I truly believe the UAE leadership wants to hire the best and the brightest to help make the country a leader in education and research but due to out of control costs and the lack of compensation to cover expenses they may not achieve this goal.

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