Haslam touts free-tuition program for Tennessee adults

Lucas Johnson II, Associated Press, Knoxville News Sentinel

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday continued touting his free-tuition plan for Tennessee adults as well as announced equipment grants to help those enrolled in the program get the best training to be successful in the workforce.

Tennessee Reconnect is a program that allows adults to attend one of the state’s 27 colleges of applied technology for free by paying tuition and fees not covered by existing grants and scholarships. So far, nearly 11,000 Tennesseans have applied to the program.

The governor visited Tennessee College of Applied Technology Dickson’s Clarksville campus Tuesday and presented the school with a $450,000 grant to implement a new diesel technology program. He’s scheduled to make grant announcements in Nashville on Wednesday and Chattanooga on Thursday.

Haslam, who traveled the state in April promoting Tennessee Reconnect and is doing so again this month, approved $5 million in this year’s budget to fund new equipment at the TCATs. The schools have an 80 percent graduation rate and an 85 percent job placement rate across the system, according to the governor’s office.

“Our TCATs are incredibly effective,” he said. “The state’s ability to attract and retain business is tied directly to the quality of our workforce, and across our 27 technical colleges, students are gaining the necessary skills to succeed and go on to higher-paying jobs and better lives.”

Arrita Summers is director of TCAT Dickson’s Clarksville campus. She said the new 20-month program will teach students how to repair diesel engines and develop skills they need to enter the automotive workforce.

“As you know with modern technology, there are no shade-tree mechanics anymore,” Summers said. “You could learn from your father, but nowadays it’s so complex that you’ve got to have those advanced skills.”

Gaetano Noriega, 35, is in the school’s machine tool technology program. Regardless of the study, he said, the state’s TCATs are a great opportunity to gain valuable skills.

“You get what you put into it,” said Noriega, who finishes in August. “If you apply yourself, you’ll definitely get the education that you need to get in the workforce and be marketable.”

Tennessee Reconnect is part of Haslam’s “Drive to 55” initiative, which aims to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with a degree or certificate beyond high school from the current 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025 to help improve overall job qualifications and attract employers to the state.

Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan said Tennessee Reconnect, as well as other programs Haslam has introduced to encourage post-secondary education attainment, have resulted in a transformation of how the state’s commitment to higher education is viewed across the country.

“We know the only way we can reach our goals to increase the numbers of Tennesseans with college degrees is to attract more non-traditional students into our programs, including and especially adult students,” Morgan said in an email. “Tennessee Reconnect does that, and it provides those adults with a variety of programs, each offering the technical skills and professional training designed to meet the workforce demands in the region or local area.”

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