Profiles and Trends Section V. State Higher Education Finance

Figure 5.1

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  • 5.1. Median Annual Tuition in Constant 2013 Dollars: SREB states (excluding Tennessee) and Tennessee
    Median Annual Tuition in Constant 2013 Dollars: SREB states (excluding Tennessee) and Tennessee
  • Median Annual Tuition in Constant 2013 Dollars: SREB states (excluding Tennessee) and Tennessee Data
  • Comparison of tuition in Tennessee to the tuition in neighboring states allows for gauging how well Tennessee encourages its residents to attend higher education in-state. Nationally, the cost of higher education is climbing at a rate that forces many families to seriously consider cost when deciding where their child will enroll. With federal and state aid making up a smaller portion of the overall cost of college, legislators should be mindful of the influence that price has on a student entering college or entering the workforce.

    Figure 5.1 demonstrates that, on average, changes in the median university tuition in Tennessee have been in step with the rise of average tuition across the other 15 SREB states. Tennessee universities remain as affordable as four-year institutions in other SREB states. However, annual tuition charges at public two-year institutions in Tennessee have outpaced the growth in the median tuition in other SREB states. Even with these greater than average increases, community colleges remain an affordable option in Tennessee.

Figure 5.2

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  • 5.2. Total State Grant Aid (Need and Non-need) per Public and Private Undergraduate FTE (2013-2014)
    Total State Grant Aid (Need and Non-need) per Public and Private Undergraduate FTE (2013-2014)
  • Total State Grant Aid (Need and Non-need) per Public and Private Undergraduate FTE (2013-2014) Data
  • Figure 5.2 shows the total amount of state grant aid (both need and non-need based) for SREB states, and presents the average award per full-time equivalent (FTE) undergraduate student for SREB and the nation. In 2013-14, Tennessee ranked 3rd nationally and among the SREB states in the amount of grant aid per FTE. This remarkable progress from Tennessee's 32nd position in 2003 is largely attributable to the creation of the Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarships (TELS) program in 2004. However, Tennessee (24 percent) continues to trail the nation (75 percent) and SREB region (40 percent) in the proportion of grant aid awarded based on need.

Figure 5.3

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  • 5.3. Net Cost of Attendance as a Percent of Median Family Income (2012-2013)
    Net Cost of Attendance as a Percent of Median Family Income (2012-2013)
    Net Cost of Attendance as a Percent of Median Family Income (2012-2013)
  • Net Cost of Attendance as a Percent of Median Family Income (2012-2013) Data
  • The net cost of college as a percent of median family income is a telling indicator of higher education affordability. Figure 5.3 shows that public higher education in Tennessee remains comparatively affordable. In addition, the availability of TELS awards and other financial aid brings higher education within reach of more Tennesseans.

Figure 5.4

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  • 5.4. Average Student Loan Debt (2005-2014)
    Average Student Loan Debt (2005-2014)
  • Average Student Loan Debt (2005-2014) Data
  • Student debt is a looming issue for the newest generation of college graduates. Nationally, total former and current students have accumulated an estimated $1.2 trillion in student debt. The influence of student loan debt on the myriad life choices that college graduates face could have lasting impacts on the state’s and country’s future.

    Figure 5.4 shows the marked improvement in the average debt of a Tennessee graduate (public and private institutions) compared to the nation. Though the average debt for a Tennessee graduate has increased by almost $6,000 since 2005, this increase is much lower than that of the nation.

    Until recently, Tennessee was among the lowest debt level states, ranking 9th in 2010 and 6th in 2011. It also ranked 7th in 2012; however, the data for that year (not reported on the graph) is not directly comparable to other years because it includes for-profit colleges.

    In 2014, Tennessee ranked 15th in the nation. Although no longer among the lowest debt level states, Tennessee is not among the top highest debt level states.

Figure 5.5

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  • 5.5. University Revenue per University Award (1988-2015)
    University Revenue per University Award (1988-2015)
  • University Revenue per University Award (1988-2015) Data
  • Figure 5.5 presents the efficiency in degree production at Tennessee universities over the last 27 years. Total revenue (including state appropriations and tuition and fees) per award (as measured by total bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees) has declined recently from a high of $72,300 in 2007-08 to $66,000 in 2014-15 (in constant 2014 dollars). It now costs less to produce an award at Tennessee universities than it did nearly three decades ago. Additionally, the total amount of state appropriations per award has also declined, from $57,900 to $20,500. This corresponds to a greater reliance by campuses on tuition and fees revenue for each award, which accounted for $45,500 in 2015, as compared to $22,400 in 1988. The shifting of university revenue sources has implications for students’ ability to enroll and their cumulative debt upon graduation.