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KNOXVILLE, Tenn.–University of Tennessee President J. Wade Gilley is advocating a statewide dialog on the importance of funding higher education.

“While we’re not in a state of crisis, we’ve held our breath, we’ve done without, but we’re approaching a point where some hard decisions have to be made by the Board of Trustees, by the General Assembly and by the people of Tennessee,” Gilley said in a recent address to the Knoxville Rotary Club.

Gilley cited figures that show Tennessee’s two-year state appropriations for higher education are the lowest in the Southeast. From the academic years 1996-97 to 1998-99, state funding rose 2.7 percent. In the same period, funding rose 6.3 percent in Alabama, 17.7 percent in Mississippi, and 25.6 percent in Kentucky, he said.

“If we’re going to serve the people of Tennessee like this university must serve if the state’s going to move forward in the next 10 to 15 years,” Gilley said, “the investments that are made now will not pay off tomorrow, but they will pay off in the next decade.”