Feb 9, 2022 - News

Historic higher ed funding in budget proposal

Illustration of a hundred dollar bill wrapped up like a college diploma

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Gov. Bill Lee's budget proposal includes nearly $2 billion in new funding for higher education, a total state officials are hailing as historic.

Why it matters: A boost to state-funded financial aid alone could increase HOPE scholarships for tens of thousands of Tennessee students.

  • The unusually high influx of state funding would likely prevent tuition increases at all public colleges next year.

What they're saying: "This is a record-breaking higher education budget," higher education commission executive director Emily House tells Axios. "That will do so much good for students and their families as well as Tennessee's workforce."

  • At a budget hearing this week, state Rep. Gary Hicks (R-Rogersville) said he was "proud of the investment the state is making."

By the numbers: Nearly $90 million would go toward increasing HOPE scholarships at universities and colleges. At universities, the scholarships currently cover $3,500 for each of the first two years and $4,500 for each of the following two.

  • Under Lee's plan, new funding would push those amounts to $5,100 per year for all four years.
  • HOPE scholarships at community colleges would grow from $3,000 to $3,200 per year.

Between the lines: The funding includes $200 million for expansion projects at 10 technical colleges, including the Nashville location, a reflection of Lee's focus on higher education as a gateway to the workforce and trade jobs.

  • House says that work would focus on expanding capacity at technical colleges, which have seen enrollment growth at a time when most colleges are seeing their rosters drop.

Meanwhile, the higher education haul includes $250 million for campus upgrades at Tennessee State University.

What's next: The General Assembly must sign off on Lee's full $52.6 billion budget proposal before it takes effect.

  • At a budget hearing this week, multiple lawmakers voiced support for continuing to stagger HOPE scholarship levels so that students get more funding in their junior and senior years.

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