High tuition limits access to American dream

Acquire DigitalNews

Education is the golden ticket. By any measure, education drives future success. As a state senator, I have made it my top priority to ensure that the children of our state have access to a quality education. That is why I have supported legislation that places greater power into the hands of parents and why I have proposed common-sense reforms to raise our academic standards.

However, the benefit of these reforms will be diminished if we continue on the unsustainable path of pricing students out of our public universities. Tuition inflation at our state universities is outpacing wage growth and the Consumer Price Index and it is becoming harder for students to graduate from college without taking on a crushing debt load.

For example, in the last decade, tuition and fees at The University of Tennessee have risen from roughly $4,800 to $11,800. Looking at these numbers another way, a decade ago, tuition and fees represented 12 percent of the median household income of Tennesseans. Now, tuition and fees represent 28 percent of the median household income.

The days of a student working his or her way through college or parents sending children through on a middle-class income are rapidly fading. We have reached a point where the cost of tuition is not affordable for many of those who need our state’s public universities the most.

This is why I support legislation that will bring stability and enhanced accountability to the tuition systems of our public universities. The Tuition Stability Act (SB 2306/HB 2069) will freeze tuition rates for our state’s students until the 2018-19 school year. This pause will allow our university administrators and state budget experts to work on a long-term solution. After that time, the threshold for approval of tuition hikes will be raised.

While this temporary tuition freeze may garner the most attention, the greatest strength of this bill may be the call for tuition rates to be locked in for students when they first enter college. That is, tuition will be the same for all four years of a student’s education. This will give students a more accurate picture of the total cost of a degree and allow them to budget and plan ahead with more precision.

The mechanism by which tuition is set at our state universities is flawed, but we can greatly improve it. If enacted, SB 2306 will help bring predictability and stability to the cost of attending college in our state. By so doing, this bill will support students in their academic endeavors and protect access to the American dream for all Tennesseans.

Sen. Steven Dickerson, R-Nashville, represents District 20 in the Tennessee General Assembly.​