U of M Could Get Local Control

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The University of Memphis could get its own, local governing board in a plan announced Tuesday by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam.

The governor said he’ll bring legislation to the Tennessee General Assembly in its next session to re-organize the state’s higher education system. The legislation is called the “Focus On College and University Success (FOCUS) Act.”

The new system would create local boards for local control of Austin Peay State University, East Tennessee State University, Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee State University, Tennessee Technological University, and the University of Memphis.

All of those schools are currently under the control of the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR), which now oversees 46 colleges and universities ranging from technical colleges to medical and law schools. The new plan would re-focus the TBR’s attention on the state’s 13 community colleges and 27 technical colleges.

“The six state universities under TBR would have increased autonomy by transitioning from sole TBR oversight to a new model that would include a local governing board,” reads a statement from Haslam’s office. “These boards would appoint the campus president, manage the university budget and set tuition, and oversee other operational tasks. TBR would continue to provide key administrative support to the six state universities.”

Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris (D-Memphis) said Haslam's announcement was a "good step forward."

"Higher education leaders have long talked about ways we could reorganize our system," Harris said in a statement. "This plan has the potential to generate broader buy-in from local stakeholders and, thus, more investment in universities, like U of M. A proposal, like this one, has been a long-time coming.”

The Tennessee Higher Education Commission would coordinate higher education across the state, making a master plan for higher education, maintaining academic program quality, creating a strategic finance plan that incorporates tuition, and capital.

This announcement came in a Tuesday news conference in Nashville as Haslam rolled out the “next step” in his Drive to 55 campaign, which seeks to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or credential to 55 percent by 2025. He said by 2025 that 55 percent of jobs available in the state will require some sort of postsecondary degree or credential.

“Tennessee’s future in economic development will depend on us having a workforce that is ready for high-skill, high-wage jobs, and as part of that effort we have to make sure our colleges and universities are strategically aligned in supporting student success,” Haslam said. “The FOCUS Act will put us on that path.”

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