guest view: Gov. Bill Haslam

We are seeing historic occasions across our state as each of the six university boards formed by the FOCUS Act holds its first meeting and actually operates under our new structure in higher education.

We believe this is a difference maker for these universities – Austin Peay State University, East Tennessee State University, Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee State University, Tennessee Tech-nological University, and the University of Memphis.

Each day, members of these newly formed boards will be able to wake up and think about what would be in the best interest of the specific university he or she serves. Each school will be able to control more of its own destiny.

Approved by the General Assembly last year, the FOCUS Act formed local governing boards for the six four-year schools previously under the Tenne-ssee Board of Regents, allowing TBR to be more focused on Tennessee’s 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology. Schools in the University of Tennessee system continue to operate under the University of Tennessee’s Board of Trustees.

The six state universities now have increased autonomy with the authority to appoint the campus president, manage the university budget and set tuition, and oversee other operational tasks.

I want to express my gratitude to the dedicated men and women who are serving on the new boards whom we appointed and the Tennessee General Assembly approved. These are high-caliber boards, and the board members are serving because they love their schools. We know they have busy lives, so we are grateful that they would devote time to this new way to serve.

Tennessee is making dramatic progress in higher education through our Drive to 55, and the FOCUS Act is a crucial next step in this effort.

We will need 55 percent of our adults to have postsecondary credentials by 2025. We have put a lot of effort into our community colleges and colleges of applied technology with programs like the Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect. But with the General Assembly’s support and partnership we are also moving forward in significant ways at the four-year schools.

Each of the schools under these new governing boards is already great in its own way. Each has a major impact in its particular region. But it’s an opportunity for great universities to become even greater. I don’t think you can exaggerate what it means for these schools to have governing boards they can call their own.