Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Educational Administration

Major Professor

E. Grady Bogue

Committee Members

Robert Cunningham, Malcolm McInnis, Norma Mertz


The purpose of this study was to describe tuition policy setting at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, 1960-2000. A case study method was employed that involved interviews with current and former chancellors, campus business officers, presidents, system business officers, THEC officials, and a member of the board of trustees. A variety of documentary evidence was also reviewed to assist in triangulation of the data. Four significant themes emerged during the study. These four themes include: (1) there is no formal tuition policy at the University of Tennessee, (2) there is significant input in the decision making process, (3) there is minimal formal communication regarding decisions, and (4) the proliferation of special fees is a recent phenomenon.

The overwhelming evidence confirmed there were no formal policies guiding tuition setting at the University of Tennessee, although the palpable long standing philosophy was “keep tuition low.” This low tuition approach was adopted as an informal policy dating back to at least the 1950s and held throughout most of the 40 year period of this study. There were considerable discussions every year during the budget process regarding the needs of the university, the likely state funding, and the share of expenses expected to come from students. The reality was tuition paid by students became the balance wheel, for the most part, in the budget planning process. The interviewees discussed many factors that influenced the tuition discussion including “what will the traffic bear”, peer comparisons regarding both tuition and faculty salaries, inflation, the state budget situation, enrollment, and the need for new programs and facilities. There was an overwhelming desire to remain competitive in the SREB region as it relates to tuition, but this desire continually competes with the desire for improved quality and expanded programs. The budget process was fairly consistent throughout the 40-year history. Keeping tuition low and shifting a portion of the expenses to fees is perceived to put the university in a more competitive position rather than combining these additional costs with the general tuition. This trend is expected to continue not only at the University of Tennessee, but also throughout higher education.

Overall, the research participants were extremely committed to the purpose of higher education, fervent in their support for state funding for higher education, firmly convinced that students should pay a “fair share” of their own education, and skeptical of an improved state funding situation. In fact, only one of the twelve participants believed tuition should continue to rise, but all twelve believed it would continue to do so. In addition, none of them believed the state funding situation would significantly improve, at least not in the short-run.

There must be a public policy debate in Tennessee regarding the significance of higher education to the state and why increased funding for higher education is important. We must develop a policy that recognizes the cumulative consequences of our decisions before they cause irreparable harm to some students by forcing them out of the higher education system

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