Colleges and universities across Tennessee are trying to make it easier for adults with some college credit to go back to school. Nearly 40 public and private schools met this week to discuss a $1.1 million program called Tennessee Reconnect + Complete, part of the state’s ongoing plan to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with degrees.
Part of Reconnect + Complete is a massive marketing campaign, targeting an estimated 110,000 adults — over age 25 — who’ve completed at least half of their college credits but never finished. The state will start airing TV ads and sending out mailers about adult education early next year.
Another aspect of the initiative trains schools on how to serve these students. A few universities around the state have already been making this a priority, and they’ll be sharing ideas with colleges that are more used to dealing with traditional students right out of high school.
MTSU, for example, has several thousand nontraditional students, according to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. They require more flexibility and have different goals, says academic marketing director David Foster.
“They’re going to say, ‘I’m having to build everything that I do around my work schedule, and I’ve got kids, and I’ve got soccer games.’ They have to look at things a little differently,” Foster says. “An adviser needs to be sensitive to that.”
Colleges are also trying to figure out how to give credit for real-world experience, something that schools like MTSU, Lipscomb and the online Western Governors University have already started doing.
Reconnect + Complete will likely get less attention than its sister program, Tennessee Promise, which gives free community college to graduating high schoolers. But Gov. Bill Haslam reminded higher education leaders earlier this week that Promise is just one part of the equation to raise the college degree rate in Tennessee to 55 percent. Currently, fewer than 40 percent of adults have a college degree or certificate.
“The Tennessee Promise, just launching that and putting it out there, will not get us to 55 [percent],” Haslam said. The state has to help adults too, he said, in order to reach that goal.