Bill Haslam: TN Reconnect opens education doors to adults

When we launched our ‘Drive to 55’ initiative, where our goal is to have 55 percent of our adults with a college degree or certificate by 2025, we knew we would need to do two things.

We knew we needed to increase the number of high school seniors who go on to college, and we knew we would need to reach out to adults in Tennessee who need a college degree and get them back into the higher education system.

We hope the Tennessee Reconnect grant will serve as a catalyst for those adults who were perhaps unsure whether they should enroll in higher education to go ahead and take the next step.

Under Tennessee Reconnect, adults in our state will be able to attend a Tennessee college of applied technology free of tuition and fees. Our TCATs have an 80 percent graduation rate and an 85 percent job placement rate. They are recognized across the country as models of student success. To reach our goal, we know we have to reach those who didn’t get a credential and get them back into higher education.

We have 27 technical colleges, and their students are gaining the necessary skills to succeed and go on to higher paying jobs and better lives.

Our ability to attract and retain business is tied directly to the quality of our workforce. At our TCATs, students are gaining skills in advanced manufacturing, welding, nursing and range of other fields.

Tennessee Reconnect is a last-dollar scholarship program that was part of our Tennessee Promise legislation the General Assembly passed last year. The Tennessee Promise is known primarily for its goal of getting more high school graduates to attend our community colleges or technical schools or other eligible institution offering an associate’s degree. We were excited to see the results as 58,000 high school seniors applied.  But reaching out to adults is also a priority.

Tennesseans can sign up for the Tennessee Reconnect grant at, and we ask that they do so before May 15. Applicants will be guided through the admission and financial aid process by their local TCAT.

Attracting adults to go back to college is a challenging task, because adult students have complex lives. They often juggle children, family, work and church. Data shows us that when adult students re-enter higher education they do very well. It is crucial that we find a way for more adults to succeed.

Their success also means opportunity for employers, who are able to have a highly trained set of workers ready to contribute and be productive on day one.

We know our state’s ability to compete economically and recruit business is directly tied to how many of our residents have the skills and credentials to succeed in the workforce.

Returning to college can seem like only a dream. But Tennessee Reconnect is designed to help people reach their dreams.

Bill Haslam has been the Governor of Tennessee since 2011. He is currently serving his second term.

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