Let’s Educate Tennesseans – In More Ways than One

Last week three men were executed in Missouri, Georgia, and Florida—the first executions since Clayton Lockett’s botched execution occurred in Oklahoma. Meanwhile at least ten men on Tennessee’s death row face execution dates, the first scheduled for October 7, 2014.

Many of us are asking what more we can do. If you have been following the news over the last few days, you may have noticed stories in your local papers about the recent increases to the cost of higher education in Tennessee, perhaps as high as a 6 percent tuition increase facing students at UT Knoxville as well as tuition and fee increases ranging from 3.5 to 8.6 percent for students at Tennessee Board of Regents institutions. Even community college students at places like Chattanooga State and Cleveland State will see their tuition and fees increase by over 5 percent, as well.

I can speak anecdotally to the concerns college students have over tuition hikes: As a professor I always try to know what my students are experiencing outside of the classroom. Near the end of every term, I ask them what they plan to do over their academic break. Most will tell me about their job or internship that they have landed for the next few months. Some will reveal that working during the summer, even extra hours, will not make up the difference for what they need to attend school after the summer. Often the dollar figure they reveal that they need is relatively low – only a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars. I routinely wish I could go into my wallet and make up the difference for them. It is difficult to believe that just a few hundred dollars seemingly determines whether a student can return to school for their next semester, yet I know countless students who have transferred to a less expensive institution or some who have regrettably put their dream of a college education on hold.

Tuition hikes contradict Governor Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative, which aims to “bring the percentage of Tennesseans with college degrees or certifications to 55% by the year 2025.” And though the Tennessee Higher Education Commission recommended $29.6 million in additional funding for 2014-15, because of falling state revenues, these funds were eliminated from the budget. There seems to be no better time than to revisit the massive, unwieldy, and radically expensive death penalty system. The cost of the death penalty extends far beyond that of the courtroom or prison system. Whether we acknowledge it or not, it affects us all, and soon it will affect us in ways we might not have foreseen.

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