The Tennessee House and Senate adopted Gov. Phil Bredesen’s higher education reform package Thursday to tie state funding to graduation rates at universities and colleges.
Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle called it “taking higher education to a higher place.”
“Having a high school diploma no longer credentials you to be in this world economy,” said Kyle, the bill’s sponsor. “The chances of winning the lottery are about the same of being successful if you don’t have that [college] degree, and we owe this to our citizens.”
The Senate vote was unanimous, and only two lawmakers voted no in the House. Passage of the legislation was the last business of the special session called by the governor to enact education reform. Last week, the legislature voted to change state law to mandate the use of student test scores in evaluations of K-12 teachers and principals. That change bolstered the state’s application for more than $500 million in federal money in President Obama’s "Race to the Top" competition.
State higher education money has been divvied up based on enrollment. But only 44 percent of students at four-year state schools and 12 percent at community colleges finish with degrees. The governor’s legislation authorizes the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to change the way the state pays for higher education by sending more money to schools with improving graduation rates.
The bill also tries to strengthen the University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s relationship with Oak Ridge National Laboratory by adding $6 million to the school’s research programs in science, technology, engineering and math.
It also moves all remedial courses from four-year schools to community colleges and automatically allows students with an associate's degree to transfer as a junior to any four-year school except the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.