NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is proposing to grant more autonomy to six public universities and focus the Tennessee Board of Regents’ efforts on the state’s 40 community and technical colleges.

Haslam said Tuesday he will introduce legislation to create local boards for Austin Peay in Clarksville; East Tennessee in Johnson City; Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro; Tennessee Tech in Cookeville; Tennessee State in Nashville; and the University of Memphis. Those boards would control budgets, tuition and the selection of college presidents.

According to a news release from the governor’s office, the Board of Regents would continue to provide “key administrative support” for the six 4-year schools. But the board’s main focus would shift to the 13 community colleges and 27 technical colleges that are central to Haslam’s “Drive to 55” campaign — the initiative to raise the percentage of Tennesseans with a college degree or certificate to 55 percent by the year 2025.

Flanked by supportive legislative leaders at a news conference on the proposed changes, Haslam said the program is already seeing success, with first-time freshman enrollment at Tennessee’s community colleges up by 25 percent.

“That, to me, has said we really have to focus on those community colleges and (technical colleges) to make sure we’re providing the very best opportunity that we can there,” Haslam said.

Sidney A. McPhee is president of Middle Tennessee State University, the state school with the largest undergraduate population in Tennessee. He reacted positively to the announcement in an emailed statement, saying, “The proposal advanced today by the governor is truly bold and potentially transformational for MTSU and our sister institutions in the Tennessee Board of Regents system.”

The upcoming legislative session begins in January, but it was unclear how soon Haslam’s proposal would be ready for consideration.


TRAVIS LOLLER, Associated Press