10,700+ apply for tuition-free technical college

 Adam Tamburin, The Tennessean

More than 10,700 adults have applied to take advantage of a state grant that would send them to technical college tuition-free, exceeding initial estimates by more than 2,000.

The Tennessee Reconnect grant, which offers eligible adults the chance to get training from a Tennessee College of Applied Technology, is a key prong of the Drive to 55, Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to ensure 55 percent of Tennesseans have a college education by 2025.

The state released the grant application data last week, at the culmination of a statewide campaign led by Haslam to encourage adults to participate.

During speeches promoting Tennessee Reconnect, Haslam pushed the grant’s potential to arm the state workforce with new skills. TCATs offer training in nursing, cosmetology, early childcare and manufacturing, among other programs.

It will take a few weeks for colleges to know how many applicants will ultimately enroll in classes. Accommodating a larger swell of new students could be a challenge for the 27 TCAT locations, but it is “a great challenge to have,” said Mike Krause, executive director of the Drive to 55.

“I’m not at all concerned about the colleges’ ability to meet the challenge,” Krause said. “There’s not a college system better positioned in America than our TCAT system.”

TCAT Nashville has received 2,251 applications since the Reconnect grant’s kickoff in March, more than any other location. Director Mark A. Lenz has said he might expand class offerings at night and on the weekends to accommodate the extra students.

The state will pay only tuition and fees that aren’t covered by existing grants and scholarships — a model similar to the Tennessee Promise scholarship, which will cover community college tuition for eligible high school graduates starting this fall.

Krause said the grant is still projected to cost the state $1.5 million in its first year. This year’s state budget also set aside $5 million for extra equipment to accommodate larger pools of students at the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology.

Although the state had encouraged prospective students to apply for the grant by May 15, adults can still apply through their local TCAT.

Reach Adam Tamburin at 615-726-5986 and on Twitter @tamburintweets.

Technical colleges with the most Reconnect applications

TCAT Knoxville 1,686
TCAT Memphis 1,263
TCAT Chattanooga 1,115
TCAT Murfreesboro 840
Statewide total 10,712

Source: Tennessee Board of Regents


Learn more

To be eligible for the Tennessee Reconnect grant, adults have to be a Tennessee resident and U.S. citizen who is at least 24 years old.

Call 615-366-4405 or visit tnreconnect.gov for more information.

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