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Tennessee editorial roundup

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 7, 2015 at 1:05 pm •  Published: January 7, 2015

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

Jan. 7

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, on higher education funding:

The story out of the nation's capital on the front page of The Commercial Appeal Tuesday declared that students are paying more of the cost of attending public universities than are state governments.

That is a shift that is making college less affordable, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

That is not new news in Tennessee, where cuts in higher education funding has flipped the ratio of funding for public higher education over two decades from 70 percent state appropriations and 30 percent student tuition to nearly 70 percent tuition and 30 percent state appropriations.

Pair that fact with yearly increases in tuition and fees, and college has become a very expensive endeavor for young people seeking a degree.

Rising costs are a key reason students do not graduate, and contributed to some students taking longer to graduate.

At some point, the state's higher education leaders told Gov. Bill Haslam and state financial officials early last month, the state's institutions of higher learning are at a "crossroads" regarding universities being endangered by a funding formula in which declining state appropriations, increasing costs and spiraling tuition are jeopardizing the universities' missions.

Nationally, researchers found that in 2012 tuition accounted for 25 percent of school revenue, up from 17 percent in 2003. State funding plummeted from 32 percent to 23 percent during the same period.

The GAO found that although states began reducing their contributions to higher education a decade ago, the collapse of the financial markets in 2008 caused a sharp decline in appropriations.

Here's another fact to chew on: Tuition and fees at college and universities jumped 86 percent, adjusted for inflation, from 2000 to 2012. That was much sharper than the 52 percent rise in the preceding 12 years, according to data from the College Board.

The bigger impact of this rise in costs is that students once could graduate from a state institution nearly debt free.

But that dynamic is changing as students are having to rely more and more on student loans to stay in school. It can take years to repay those loans.

Leaders at the University of Memphis have been keenly aware of the rising-tuition issue. The university gained approval from the Tennessee Board of Regents not to raise tuition last fall, the first time in 22 years that tuition at the U of M did not rise.

Haslam has set a goal of increasing the number of Tennessee residents with college degrees or post-high school certificates from 32 percent of the state's adult population to 55 percent by 2025. His Tennessee Promise initiative, which will offer free community college tuition to all high school graduates, is a major plank in that effort.

Unless tuition costs can be brought under control, though, his initiative could be negatively affected.



Jan. 4

News Sentinel, Knoxville, Tennessee, on new-generation reactor:

Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the 1960s.

The biggest impediment to the development of a new-generation molten salt reactor, according to an essay by Josh Freed posted recently on the Brookings Institution website, is a lack of government funding for the research and development of next-generation nuclear power plants. With the growing need to transition toward energy sources that do not emit greenhouse gases, the Obama administration and Congress should give research funding for emerging nuclear technologies a higher priority.

Mark Massie, who obtained a bachelor's degree in nuclear engineering at UT before earning a Ph.D. at MIT, co-founded Transatomic Power Corp. to develop a molten salt reactor that would be safer to operate than conventional light-water reactors and help solve the nation's mounting spent nuclear fuel problem. Massie and his co-founder, Leslie Dewan, hit upon the idea of resurrecting molten-salt reactors while both were pursuing graduate studies at MIT. As the name implies, molten-salt reactors use radioactive fuel mixed with molten salt in the reactor core.

ORNL operated an experimental molten-salt reactor for four years in the late 1960s, and it proved to be reliable, but it was not commercially feasible, not least because it required uranium enriched to 33 percent, well above the 3-4 percent enrichment level of light-water reactors.

Advancements in technology, materials and processes developed in the intervening years allowed Massie and Dewan to come up with a new design. Their reactor would be more compact, safer (the molten core cannot melt down), more powerful and less expensive to operate. Their breakthrough is the use of spent nuclear fuel that now is being stored indefinitely at the nation's nuclear power plants, thus addressing the long-standing public safety concern of dealing with radioactive waste from power plants.

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