Photo by Andrew Wigdor / MTSU Sidelines
On Monday, March 4, Gov. Bill Lee presented his State of the State address, in which he outlined his priorities for his time in office and the proposed 2019-20 budget. Following the speech, MTSU President Sidney McPhee released an analysis of the budget in regards to how Lee’s initiatives will impact the university.
In McPhee’s email that included the analysis, he first mentioned a $3.8 million increase in net operating appropriations for MTSU if Lee’s budget is approved. He noted later in the analysis that the “limited” appropriations will cause the university to “once again” operate on a “very tight budget,” due to fixed cost increases in software management, utilities, promotions, etc, and scholarship funding increases.
McPhee then went on to mention that, despite the budget not explicitly including separate funding allocation for higher education salary increases, additional funding can be used for salaries at the discretion of the university. Therefore, significant salary increases for faculty are possible but not guaranteed. McPhee notes that increases in salary have been “minimal” in recent years, stating, “Improving employee salaries remains my number one priority in establishing the University 2019-20 budget. I continue to make the case to our state legislative leaders and the executive branch, and more recently to our own Board of Trustees, regarding the importance of improving salaries for our employees.”
McPhee also mentioned that Lee’s budget included funding equivalent to a 2 percent salary pool for state agencies.
A 2016 study from the University Provost’s office showed that 89 percent of MTSU professors needed to receive a pay raise in order to match the average salaries of other professors teaching the same subjects. However, in an MTSU Board of Trustees meeting in June, a 1.5 percent “across the board” salary increase for employees was approved and a plan to adjust salaries based on market value was discussed.
McPhee stated during his own 2018 State of the University address in August that the plan regarding market adjustments was being developed further. However, he clarified that, due to limited funding, the increases would not apply to adjunct faculty, temporary employees, graduate assistants or student workers.
In Lee’s budget, $133.1 million in capital outlay projects were recommended for Tennessee’s institutions of higher education. Included in this funding is a 54,000 square foot building that will house the School of Concrete and Construction Management on MTSU’s campus. $34.1 million in state funding would be provided to MTSU, and the university would then be required to raise the remaining $6 million through other sources, adding up to a $40.1 million project cost. The School of Concrete and Construction Management was introduced in 2016.
McPhee then noted that the governor recommended $73.4 million in capital maintenance funding for higher education across the board. This would include funding for two of the MTSU’s six recommended capital projects, according to McPhee, and more funding for Americans with Disabilities Act projects, totaling $6.4 million.
Next, McPhee stated Lee’s budget includes $3 million of recurring funding to the Bureau of TennCare for the Graduate Medical Education program, which provides financial assistance for medical students, with the purpose of increasing primary care providers in more rural parts of Tennessee. The university president said in his analysis that this funding could benefit MTSU’s “fast-track” partnership with Meharry Medical College. The partnership was developed in June 2017 in order to provide an accelerated track for students to graduate as physicians and better serve rural areas of Tennessee. The plan included a “three-plus-three-year program,” which would allow MTSU students to move on to Meharry for medical training.
Finally, the last section of the president’s analysis focused on the Tennessee Board of Regents’ strategic initiative involving campus safety. The initiative was introduced in 2016 and included requested funding of $8.9 million to execute the Safety and Security Task Force recommendations. Lee’s budget includes Phase III of this funding at $2 million for locally governed institutions and those under the TBR. MTSU’s cut of the funds will be $213,900. McPhee did not state at this time what exactly the funds will be used for.
At the end of the analysis, McPhee notes that the Focus Act provides THEC with the authority to institute a binding tuition and mandatory fees range and that a preliminary recommendation for a tuition increase is in the range of 0‐2.5 percent. However, he clarified that the final range will not be issued by THEC until early May.
“As the Legislature debates the final budget, we will continue to review additional information as it becomes available and incorporate the impact into the University’s budgeting process for the upcoming year,” McPhee said in the email.