Students will pay more to attend the University of Tennessee this fall.
On Thursday afternoon, the board of trustees approved tuition and fee increases for all campuses, including an 8-percent hike on the Knoxville campus.
That means in-state, undergraduate students in Knoxville will pay an additional $578 in tuition per year, along with another $110 more in fees. That fee increase includes a new library fee, along with bumps in the facility fee and program and service fee. The new rates go into effect this fall.
"There's not much alternative," said Dr. Joe DiPietro, UT's president. "I mean, we have some mandated things we have to cover that because of the system and the state we're in, we have to have a tuition increase in order to cover them."
Part of the tuition increase will help to fund a legislature-approved 2.5 percent salary increase for all state employees, which would include UT. The state funds a portion of that, but the university has to make up the rest. Some UT employees also will be eligible for a 2.5-percent merit increase.
Dr. DiPietro has said the tuition increase is not as high as in previous years partly because the state's contribution has increased.
Also at the meeting, the trustees approved UTK Chancellor Jimmy Cheek's proposal he has dubbed, "Take 15, graduate in 4."
The plan requires full-time students entering the Knoxville campus in the fall of 2013 to pay for 15 credit hours instead of the current 12. The move will cost those students an additional $1,400 per year.
"We think it's the right plan for our students, we think it's the right plan for the state, we think it's the right plan for the university, and it helps with our aspirational goals to be a Top 25 public research university," Chancellor Cheek said.
Part of the plan includes an attempt to freeze those students' year-to-year tuition increases at 3 percent for the following three years. After that, the students would pay the prevailing tuition rate.
The plan does not affect any current or enrolled students, and it does not force students to take 15 credit hours. They may still take 12 hours and remain full-time, but they would still have to pay the new 15-hour rate.
The goal is to encourage students to graduate in four years.
As students prepare to pay more to attend UT in the coming years, Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday he'll be putting a new focus on higher education in the state.
He wants to focus on three areas: Graduating more students in the state, helping to minimize the costs of higher education, and learning more about what employers need in the form of skilled workers.
In order to gain that knowledge, he announced plans to take a summer tour to meeting with business leaders.
Still, it appears a special summer session focused on higher education may not happen, despite the call from Democrats who want the governor to use the state's surplus money to help offset the rising costs of tuition.
"Anytime you look at any item from the budget, you should say, what are the other needs," Gov. Haslam said. "You know, in government, you're not just deciding between one good thing and something bad, you're deciding between a multiple of good needs, and so you're having to choose between those, and so to have a special session just focused on one or two things when the state has a variety of needs, I think, is short-sighted."
When asked if he would like Gov. Haslam to use the extra money on higher ed, Dr. DiPietro said that decision was the governor's.
"We need to leave politics to the politician, we need to run a university, and we're all about trying to do the best things for our students," Dr. DiPietro said. "If you take a look at the increases we asked for, we have been in the circumstance where we're going to pour it back in to key areas that are bottleneck courses, we're going to be looking at student success centers, we're looking at being able to complete people more timely, and the message on the 15 and four is, there's a reward for completing on time."
On Thursday, the trustees also approved salary increases for many of the university's top leaders, including Dr. DiPietro and Chancellor Cheek.
DiPietro's base salary will rise from $420,000 to $430,500, while Chancellor Cheek will see a more than $22,000 bump, bringing his base to nearly $395,000.
Here's the breakdown for the tuition increases by campus:
Knoxville: 8 percent
College of Law: 8 percent
Space Institute: 8 percent
Chattanooga: 6 percent
Martin: 6 percent
Health Science Center: 4 percent
Veterinary Medicine: 10 percent
Despite a 10-percent increase in tuition for students in the College of Veterinary Medicine, leaders say students will actually end up paying less for their education because the college is reducing the number of sessions students need to graduate from nine to eight.