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News & Press: Policy Update

TICUA Policy Update: Increased Student Aid, Homeless Student Assistance, WGU Hope Scholarship Bill

Friday, March 8, 2019  
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Governor Lee Proposes Increased

Student Aid

       Governor Bill Lee delivered his first State of the State Address this past Monday evening.  During the speech, he outlined a wide-range of initiatives from criminal justice reform to education savings accounts.  

The Governor’s memorandum to the TSAC Board of Directors summarized his higher education commitment in this way, “the Governor’s budget recommends recurring appropriations for higher education totaling $1.66 billion, an increase of $86.7 million—or 5.5 percent—over the 2018-19 recurring appropriation level. Higher education is also recommended to receive $44 million in non-recurring appropriations. The total increase in operating appropriations—including recurring and nonrecurring—is an investment of $130.7M.” 

Included in the Governor’s budget were two key improvements of interest to TICUA members.  He proposed a $12.3 million increase in the Tennessee Student Assistance Award (TSAA)– the State’s only need-based aid program and a $417,400 restoration of the Contract Education program.  Both improvements are on the recurring side of the budget, meaning that the funding will be embedded in all future budgets.


Homeless Student Assistance Bill Passes Senate Education 

      SB763/HB1000 sponsored by Senator Jeff Yarbro and Representative Bill Beck would require higher education institutions to designate a staff member as a homeless-student liaison.  Students meeting the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. § 11434a(2)) definition are considered independent for the purposes of Title IV student aid.

The campus’ designee would provide student aid and housing guidance to students meeting this qualification.  The bill requires that homeless-students be given priority for available campus housing during enrollment periods and accommodations between enrollment periods if the campuses provides such services.

The bill passed the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday but has yet to be put on an Education Subcommittee in the House.



WGU’s Bill to Gain Hope Scholarships Rolled in Senate Education

      Senator Mike Bell’s legislation to enable Western Governors University to gain access to the HOPE Scholarship programs (SB0441/HB0497) was heard in Senate Education this week but a vote on the bill was delayed for two weeks.  WGU-Tennessee offers an online competency-based program and has their marketing office domiciled in Franklin, Tennessee.  Its academic and financial operations, however, are based in Park City, Utah.  

TICUA has expressed grave concerns about the bill based on three areas of concerns.  First, in 2013 former Governor Bill Haslam put together an incentive package for WGU to locate in Tennessee and it did not include access to Hope Scholarship aid.  The package did include, however, $5 million for start-up funds, removal from regulatory oversight by THEC, and access to the TSAA – the state’s need-based student aid program.   During testimony concerning the incentive package, WGU representatives indicated they had no intention of seeking access to the Hope Scholarship programs.

Second, an exception for WGU could open the door for other out-of-state headquartered institutions to seek access to HOPE Scholarship aid.  The General Assembly has provided HOPE Scholarships exceptions in the past, but these were for nonprofit institutions with their main campus domiciled in Tennessee, not for operations based outside of the state.  Some of the regionally accredited institutions that offer online and/or ground programs in Tennessee and who may seek access to Hope Scholarships in the future include University of Phoenix, Troy State University, Strayer University, University of Alabama, and others.

Finally, Hope Scholarship aid for students attending four-year colleges and universities has not been adjusted upward to account of inflation since the early inception of the program.  Most recently, the scholarships for freshmen and sophomores were reduced by $500 per year to accommodate the funding needs of the Tennessee Promise program.  It has been TICUA’s priority to restore the funding levels of the first two years of the scholarship before any new programs are introduced, much less allowing an out-of-state institution gain access to the scholarship aid.

The University of Memphis and East Tennessee State University have added their opposition to the bill as well.