A proposal from the governor’s office may put ETSU on the fast track to independent government for the first time in nearly half a century.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced at a press conference Tuesday that he would ask that individual governing boards be created for the six state universities currently under Tennessee Board of Regents control.

ETSU President Brian Noland said he believes Haslam’s plan would eliminate the need to get approval from the Board of Regents, leaving it only necessary to have something approved at the university level and by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

“(Haslam’s plan) has the potential to streamline the activities of the campus, thereby providing us with some flexibility to respond with greater speed to needs that emerge within the region or across the state,” Noland said.   

In his proposal, Haslam said this move would grant those universities greater independence and allow the Board of Regents to focus on the state’s 13 community colleges and 27 Colleges of Applied Technology.

“Tennessee’s future in economic development will depend on us having a workforce that is ready for high skill, high wage jobs,” Haslam said in a news release Tuesday, “and as part of that effort we have to make sure our colleges and universities are strategically aligned in supporting student success.”

This proposal is the latest in a series of educational upsets, referred to by the governor as the Drive to 55, designed to increase college attendance among Tennesseans.

“Since the launch of the Drive to 55, we have made tremendous progress, becoming No. 1 in the nation for federal student aid completion and increasing the size of our freshman class by 10 percent in one year,” Haslam said. “Tennessee is at the forefront of innovation in public higher education, and the conversation has brought us to this point — making sure Tennessee colleges and universities are organized, supported and empowered to meet the demands of Drive to 55.”

The Tennessee Promise, another component of the Drive to 55 initiative, was put into practice this year, allowing high school graduates the option of two tuition-free years at a community college in exchange for them completing eight hours of community service.

According to the governor’s news release, community colleges across the state experienced a 24.7 percent increase in first-time freshman enrollment.

Noland said this proposal is merely another reason for the university to rethink its budgeting processes.

“If this board proposal does come to fruition,” Noland said, “we would need to re-engineer our budget processes … with the understanding that a local board is going to pay very, very close attention to the budgeting aspects of the institution.”

The proposal will be unveiled in its entirety in the form of “Focus on College and University Success Act” in the next session of the General Assembly.