July 3, 2008

Faculty Slots at University of Tennessee Health Science Center Will Go Unfilled

By Daniel Connolly, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.

Jul. 2--A budget cut means the University of Tennessee Health Science Center won't be able to hire some faculty this year to train new nurses and other health care professionals, the leader of the school said.

The cut comes as the health care industry in Memphis and around the nation is struggling to deal with labor shortages, especially in the nursing ranks. Recruiting and retaining professors is a critical part of training new workers to fill vacancies, experts say.

It's not clear how many faculty positions will go unfilled across the university's divisions, said Dr. Hershel "Pat" Wall, UTHSC chancellor.

He also said the university has a hiring freeze on non-teaching staff positions and that deans are making program cuts in the university's six colleges. Details of the reductions are still unclear.

The college of nursing suspended recruiting for two new faculty positions, said Susan Jacob, executive associate dean of the school. But it should be able to train the same number of students per year, about 407, she said.

She also said the school is making progress raising money to plug a $1 million budget hole caused by the expiration of grants and the state cut.

The state legislature cut the University of Tennessee's budget by 3.6 percent this year, citing a decline in tax revenue.

The cut amounted to $2.8 million for UTHSC. Its main campus is in Memphis.

And in a step Wall said was in the works before the budget cut, the University of Tennessee board of trustees voted last month to increase UTHSC's tuition effective July 1.

Students in dentistry and pharmacy face 14 percent tuition increases.

In-state dental students will now pay $18,368; out-of-state tuition is $43,468.

Wall doubted the increases would keep away students.

Third-year medical student Zach Corr, 24, said because he already expects debt of more than $100,000, a little more barely seemed to register.

"I really don't keep up with it," he said during a lunch break near campus before heading off for a round of clinical practice at Baptist Memorial Hospital for Women.

Under the university's system, each class in the medical school pays the same amount for each of four years.

In-state tuition ranges from $17,196 for the class of 2009 to $18,800 for the class of 2012.

The range for out-of-state students is $34,080 to $37,250.

That is lower than national medians for public schools, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Nursing students also face tuition increases. In its undergraduate nursing program, which is being phased out and replaced with a master's program, UT is raising tuition 10 percent to $5,040 for in-state students, and to $12,290 for out of -state students. A 3 percent increase for graduate students will bring tuition rates to $8,120 and $19,560, respectively.

In the nursing field, recruiting and retaining faculty is a more weighty factor than tuition increases, said Sharon Adkins, executive director of the Tennessee Nurses Association.

Nursing schools are turning away qualified student applicants because they often can't pay competitive enough salaries to replace retiring faculty members.

Adkins doubts tuition increases would push away students. "I think there will still be a number of folks waiting in line to pursue opportunities."


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