Legislators criticized Tennessee State University for last-minute arrangements to house overflow students this year, but the University of Tennessee-Knoxville also placed students in hotels and needed approval Monday for an expanded apartment lease.
The Tennessee State Building Commission’s executive committee approved a $6.78 million deal for UT-Knoxville to lease over 500 apartments at Lakemoor Station, about seven miles from campus, to accommodate enrollment growth to 33,000 students. UT-Knoxville currently pays $3 million annually for 368 beds at a Holiday Inn a similar distance away.
While UT-Knoxville’s lodging issues received little attention, TSU’s situation led to harsh criticism and an impending $2 million audit. The committee approved TSU leasing up to 269 hotel rooms for $7.2 million from August through May 2024, with $5.5 million offset by student fees.
TSU, Tennessee’s only public historically Black university, angered lawmakers this year by needing extra housing for students, some of whom complained about unanticipated off-campus living. Though the committee approved TSU’s request, Sen. Charlane Oliver (D-Nashville) said it received closer scrutiny than UT-Knoxville’s, despite a shorter timeline.
TSU’s enrollment jumped to 9,200 from 7,600 in two years, especially first-generation Black students, as scholarships rose to $28.3 million from $6.4 million. A report said TSU lacked on-campus housing and questioned some students’ scholarship eligibility.
Comptroller Jason Mumpower blamed TSU’s issues on “a series of decisions” and said leaders should have anticipated problems. TSU President Glenda Glover called the report misleading and said TSU properly awarded scholarships.
The report recommended restricting TSU scholarships and enrollment and putting it under the Tennessee Board of Regents. TSU and others gained their boards in 2016.
Lawmakers issued no penalties but extended TSU’s board one year and approved a $2 million audit. TSU received $250 million this year following a finding that it was underfunded for decades, though the money can’t be used for housing.
Treasurer David Lillard asked about TSU’s long-term building plans and urged focusing on housing, calling it “key and pivotal.” TSU Vice President Doug Allen said TSU hopes to approve plans this fall for two housing buildings with 2,200 beds, possibly open by 2026.