Graduation season is in full swing, and we get to celebrate the hard work and perseverance of so many who have achieved their dreams of earning a college degree. Their college success is not only important to their future lives, but also to the future of Tennessee.
Like many places across the country, Tennessee is facing a skilled workforce shortage. And while we know the vast majority of new jobs will require some form of education beyond high school, over half of Tennesseans, ages 25-64, do not have the necessary credentials or degrees to fill those jobs.
The good news is there has never been a better time for all adults to go back to school for additional training and to earn a post-secondary education.
Thanks to a new program called Tennessee Reconnect, Tennessee adults can now earn a two-year degree or credential at any of our technical or community colleges, tuition free.
Addressing our skills gap is a top priority for Tennessee because a healthy, growing economy requires a workforce ready to fill the jobs so many of our employers need.
That’s one reason Gov. Bill Haslam charged our state with the goal to equip 55 percent of all Tennessee adults with a degree or credential beyond high school by 2025, and why our state legislature helped create first-in-the-nation programs to get our workforce ready.
We’ve already made great progress increasing the college-going rate for our high school graduates through the Tennessee Promise scholarship program, but we will not reach our state workforce goal without engaging adult learners as well.
Tennessee Reconnect offers all adults the chance to gain the credentials they need to advance their career and to increase their earning potential for years to come.
The application for Tennessee Reconnect is open, and more than 14,000 Tennessee adults have already applied. But we want to make sure every adult who could benefit from this program knows it is available, and we hope you will join us by spreading the word.
Many of the state’s largest employers and dozens of local chambers are coming together to do our part. Our Drive to 55 Alliance of business organizations and private sector partners are not only promoting the program, but also working to pinpoint the highest-demand employment needs and to help make sure the adults who do go back to school are getting the skills they actually need.
Tennessee’s higher education institutions are also actively promoting Tennessee Reconnect by holding information sessions for potential students, changing the way they are doing business to better serve adult learners, and offering tangible resources and supports to help adult students move from college application to actual completion.
No other state in the nation is taking this kind of strategic and innovative approach to tackle its workforce challenges and to expand access to higher education.
The Drive to 55 is not just an education and workforce initiative, but an economic imperative for our entire state. Achieving our goal will mean greater economic development, more good-paying jobs all across Tennessee, and an improved quality of life for everyone.
We are proud to support Tennessee Reconnect. We believe it is a life-changing opportunity for all Tennessee adults and a real game-changer for businesses and the future of our state.
Working together in promoting this first-in-the-nation opportunity, we will make our state even more workforce ready and build a stronger, more prosperous Tennessee.
Scott Becker is senior vice president at Nissan North America’s corporate headquarters in Franklin. Bradley Jackson is president and CEO of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry. Both serve as co-chairs of the Drive to 55 Alliance.