As Tennessee Promise reaches the end of its first full year, Gov. Bill Haslam is turning toward a new college challenge that he said would be even more complicated.
In January the state will launch an advertising campaign and publicity tour to promote the Reconnect and Complete initiative to attract adults onto college campuses. It’s another part of the governor’s Drive to 55, a suite of 12 programs — including Tennessee Promise — that aim to enroll more Tennesseans in higher education.
The new Reconnect and Complete program will seek to reach out to 110,000 Tennesseans between the ages of 25 and 64 who have dropped out of college since 2007, when they were more than halfway toward a degree. Through a $1 million advertising blitz featuring billboards along the interstate and commercials on TV and radio, the state will encourage those adults to finish.
College representatives met in September to strategize and collect contact information for former students who are only a handful of credits away from graduation.
During that meeting, college representatives got added training on the best ways to work with adult students, who often must balance families and jobs with their education. Each state college also has put a staffer in charge of overseeing outreach to adults.
College outreach to high school students has followed a relatively simple model under Tennessee Promise, focusing on high school visits and buy-in from guidance counselors to promote the scholarship program. Reaching out to adults is more difficult because there isn’t a similar central place to reach all of them.
“That feels like the next challenge,” Haslam said this month during an exclusive interview in his office.
The state already has made several efforts to reach out to adults under the Reconnect umbrella.
The Tennessee Reconnect grant gives eligible adults the chance to study at a technical college without paying tuition. And the state in October announced that Middle Tennessee and two other regions would get $200,000 Reconnect community grants to create community centers for adults who want to go back to college. In Middle Tennessee, the community center will be a hub for three full-time “college coaches” who will provide adults with free advising, career counseling and financial aid resources.
The multifaceted approach reflects the specific challenges for adult students, and the fact that the state doesn’t have a singular strategy to reach them. Haslam acknowledged that his team was approaching the varied Reconnect efforts with a trial-and-error mentality.
“How do we get that 40-year-old single mother of two back to school?” Haslam wondered aloud. “We don’t have that problem solved yet because that’s a lot more difficult, but I think you’ll see us turning our focus to that in the next couple of years.”