Gov. Bill Haslam has talked for months about the need to get more adults into Tennessee colleges, and starting this week the state is putting that message on billboards and TV screens across the state.
The advertising is part of a $1 million push to encourage adults with some college credits to return to campus to earn their degrees. The new Reconnect and Complete program, which launched officially Wednesday, will specifically target almost 110,000 Tennesseans who attended college within the past nine years and have earned more than half of the credit hours they need to graduate.
The Reconnect and Complete ads suggest that adults could inspire their children to reach higher by going back to college.
“Dad always says to finish what you start,” reads one billboard ad that shows a smiling older graduate surrounded by his children, lifting a diploma overhead. “Be a hero. Be a graduate.”
That message also is reaching adults’ mailboxes.
Using information collected by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, state colleges are sending “push cards” to some of the adults who dropped out when they were at least halfway to a degree. On Monday, Middle Tennessee State University sent about 3,500 cards — complete with information about Reconnect and Complete and a phone number for the university.
“We’re already beginning to receive calls,” said Peggy Carpenter, assistant dean of MTSU’s University College. “Of course we’d like to get 3,000 of them.”
Carpenter said staffers are working with the adults to create a blueprint for their return to MTSU, including the number of classes they have left and the time it will take for them to finish.
Part of a bigger picture
The Reconnect and Complete program is another part of Haslam’s Drive to 55 plan to ensure 55 percent of Tennesseans have a college education by 2025.
Persuading adults with families and full-time jobs to return to college is a more daunting challenge than outreach to high school students. The state already has made several efforts to confront adults’ unique needs under the Reconnect and Drive to 55 umbrellas.
The Tennessee Reconnect grant, launched last spring, gives eligible adults the chance to study at a technical college without tuition. And in October the state announced 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.
Haslam said the efforts of individual colleges and universities will play a pivotal role in bridging the larger gap between adults and higher education.
MTSU has been one of the most aggressive institutions in that arena. The University College houses several programs and outreach efforts tailored specifically to adults.
“We’ve challenged our universities, community and technical colleges to work even harder at finding new ways to assist busy adults,” Haslam said in a statement announcing the Reconnect and Complete program. “Data shows us that when adult students re-enter higher education they do very well, so it’s crucial that we find a way to help more of them succeed.”
In addition to the advertising and mailing blitz, the Reconnect and Complete initiative includes a revamped website, www.TNReconnect.gov, that points adult students toward potential colleges, financial aid and other resources. Officials with the higher education commission also have offered college and university leaders training on the best ways to help adult students.
Reach Adam Tamburin at 615-726-5986 and on Twitter @tamburintweets.