Haslam’s ‘Complete College TN Act’ flops on House floor — a second setback for governor’s higher ed agenda

A bill cutting state-funded scholarships of college students who complete less than 30 hours of course work per year – part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislative package for the year – got more negative votes than positive votes on the House floor Monday.

The “Complete College Tennessee Act” (HB2114) has been promoted by the governor as a means of improving college graduation rates, now reported at 26 percent in two-year colleges and technical institutes and at 57 percent in four-year universities. But some legislators contend it would unfairly penalize students who are working while going to school, who are sidelined by illness for a semester or otherwise have valid reasons for completing 30 hours of credits in three semesters, as the bill requires.

(Update: On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, a sponsor, decided against putting the bill up for a Senate vote, remarking that “We should rename this the incomplete” college Tennessee  act.”

From the Times Free Press report:

This is the second major blow to Haslam’s agenda this session. Nearly two weeks ago, the Senate Education Committee torpedoed four of his nominees to a newly fashioned University of Tennessee board of trustees.

That came after a fifth current trustee, sensing trouble, withdrew his name from consideration.

… (Rep. Cameron) Sexton (R-Crossville) argued the bill was both unfair and impractical, citing his own personal experience as a student.

“A lot of us finished in five years,” Sexton said, noting he had changed his major from health to public administration. Noting many credits couldn’t be used for his new major, Sexton said, “I would have been penalized” under the governor’s proposal.

It would have been better to give students notice well in advance of proposed changes, Sexton said.

Rep. Bill Beck, D-Nashville, said the bill “penalizes the working student in my mind.”

Republican Caucus Chairman Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, sought to defend the governor’s proposal, saying the bill provides sufficient safeguards with students being able to apply for “hardship” status and be spared from seeing the amounts of their scholarships slashed.

In an unusual move, the House’s vote tally board was held open for some two minutes with proponents hoping to hit the magic 50 number of votes needed to pass a bill. Ten lawmakers simply voted present instead of casting a yes or no vote. Among them were two Hamilton County legislators, Reps. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, and Rep. Marc Gravitt, R-East Ridge.

Had six of the abstaining members voted against the bill it would have put the tally at 50. If a majority of representatives vote against a bill, it cannot be brought back in the session. Because that didn’t happen, the bill could come back provided the governor can scrounge up the votes.


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