Haslam Eyes New Challenges at Higher Ed Summit

Adam Tamburin, The Tennessean

Dozens of college leaders converged Monday in Nashville to confront a wide array of challenges facing the state as Tennessee Promise and other initiatives pump thousands of students onto campus.

Gov. Bill Haslam turned to leaders repeatedly with open-ended questions about tuition, dropout rates and adult education. The three-hour Drive to 55 Summit borrowed its name from the initiative Haslam launched two years ago to increase the number of Tennesseans with a college degree or certificate.

This year the Lumina Foundation found the number of Tennesseans with a post-secondary credential is just under 34 percent, according to a statement from the state. Haslam wants to see that number climb to 55 percent by 2025.

“The challenge for us is how do we make certain that we’re structured right to meet the demands that are going to be put on us,” Haslam told reporters after the summit. “We’re trying to see are there any things that we can do.”

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville; Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville; Education Commissioner Candice McQueen; and University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro were among those who participated in the wide-ranging series of roundtable discussions. They touched on several topics, including partnerships between educators and employers, and the pockets of Tennessee where college is not seen as a viable path.

The conversations pivoted around issues that could be woven into Haslam’s higher education platform as long-term initiatives such as the Tennessee Promise scholarship program and the Reconnect efforts to promote adult education continue to take root.

Mike Krause, executive director of the Drive to 55 and Tennessee Promise, said his team would sift through the conversations spurred on Monday to identify the most pressing challenges that the state would tackle next. He said he was particularly interested in finding a way to push best practices on everything from student advising to recruiting adult students to colleges across the state.

Krause said the “constellation of initiatives” that are already included under the Drive to 55 umbrella show the state’s serious investment in higher education. Haslam told the leaders gathered in Nashville that an aggressive approach was necessary.

“This is no longer your parents’ or grandparents’ higher education world. It’s just not,” Haslam told the group at one point Monday. “I like the position we’re in in Tennessee.”

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

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