Kingsport Times News, RICK WAGNER
Most Tennesseans 24 and older who missed out on after-high school education are getting a second chance, starting this fall.
And if they qualify and follow through, the certificate or diploma earned will be free and take less than two years.
This weekend, the Tennessee College of Applied Technology Elizabethton and TCATs across the state, including the one in Morristown, are giving adults the opportunity to sign up for the Tennessee Reconnect grant to attend free of tuition and fees beginning in the fall of 2015.
At the TCAT Elizabethton, the sign-up event will be 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at the main campus, located at 426 Highway 91 North, across from the Elizabethton Municipal Airport. At the TCAT Morristown, the event will be 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday at the main campus at 821 W. Louise Ave., Morristown.
“We are really looking at TCATs to own this,” said Mike Krause, executive director of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative. The goal of the program, launched in 2013,is to get 55 percent of Tennesseans with a certificate or college degree by 2025, compared to about 33 percent now.
However, Krause said the efforts are underway to better identify certificated folks.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Krause said the requirements are pretty simple. Students must have no student loan defaults, can’t be incarcerated and must be considered independent students, i.e. they file taxes on their own and can’t be counted as a dependent and thus can’t be a dependent on someone else’s tax return. That is generally something that occurs at age 24, he said. “Beyond that, there’s really not any deep eligibility requirements.”
Like the Tennessee Promise that covers tuition for graduating seniors this fall, the grant for older students is a last-dollar scholarship. That means it will cover the remaining costs of tuition and mandatory fees for a TCAT program after all other state and federal financial aid has been applied, according to Dean Belvins, director of TCAT Elizabethton.
“The Tennessee College of Applied Technology Elizabethton is excited about this incredible opportunity to impact our communities by sending skilled adults back into the workforce,” Blevins said Wednesday. “With the financial backing of Tennessee Reconnect, adult students will be able to learn a new skill area such as Practical Nursing, Administrative Office Technology and HVAC.”
The 27 TCATs statewide serve about 17,000 students. “If we had anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 new students (from Tennessee Reconnect), that would be a success,” Krause said, although he added that the program has no set goal. He said for a TCAT like Elizabethton, 50 to 100 Tennessee Reconnect students might be realistic.
Among Tennessee Promise students, he said about 5,000 have indicated they plan to attend a TCAT. That is among about 38,000 Tennessee Promise students who made the Nov. 1 application deadline and are still eligible for the program this fall at a community college or TCAT.
TCAT Elizabethton offers 10 full-time training programs that take 12 to 20 months to complete. They are Practical Nursing, Administrative Office Technology, Welding, Computer Information Technology, Automotive and Diesel Powered Equipment Technology, Electricity-Electronics, Pipefitting and Plumbing, HVAC, and Millwright Skills-In-
For the 12-month period ending Aug. 31, 2014, TCAT Elizabethton had a program completion rate of 90 percent, a job placement rate of 88 percent and licensure pass rate on the Tennessee Board of Nursing Examination of 92 percent, Blevins said.
The student-to-faculty ratio at TCAT Elizabethton is 23 to one, compared to 27 to one at Northeast State Community College and 60 to one at East Tennessee State University, according to the Tennessee Board of Regents website.
Tuition and fees to attend TCAT Elizabethton total $1,142 per trimester, except nursing and welding that totals $1,242. Financial assistance from the Tennessee Lottery and Federal Pell Grant provide up to $2,577 per trimester to qualifying students. For more information, contact TCAT Elizabethton at (423) 543-0070.
For more information on TCAT Morristown, call (423) 586-5771.
“Perhaps you started college and never finished; this program will enable you to have a fresh start,” according to information from the TCAT Morristown. “Tennessee needs a workforce with world-class skills in order to compete.”
The program in January of 2016 is planned to expand to community colleges statewide with additional requirements, TCAT Elizabethton spokesman Bob Robinson said, including having at least 30 hours of classes toward an associate’s of applied science.
For more information on the TN Reconnect Grant, go to www.TNReconnect.gov.