New state initiative encouraging adults to go back to school

JACKSON—Gov. Bill Haslam spoke about the potential impact of his latest education initiative to help adults enter higher education – Southwest Tennessee Reconnect – at the Jackson Chamber Thursday afternoon.

Southwest Tennessee Reconnect is a locally-based organization created with the goal of providing support and assistance to adults to help them earn a college degree or credential.

“We have to make certain that everybody has an opportunity to compete in today’s world,” Haslam said. “That’s what Reconnect is about. If you are that person who is thinking I’ve always wanted this opportunity or you know somebody let them know about this. It doesn’t do us any good if no one takes advantage of it.”

Southwest Tennessee Reconnect officially launched its partnership with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and Jackson Chamber at the end of the event.

The organization consists of community leaders, employers and higher education institutions with each entity having a plan to engage adults in the region.

Tennessee Reconnect, which encourages adults to return to college to earn a degree or certificate and allows every Tennessee resident to attend technical school or college without having to pay tuition, is part of Haslam’s Drive to 55 Initiative that started in 2013 to increase the state’s educational attainment rate from its then 37 percent to 55 percent by the year 2025.

Haslam said there are three reasons for Southwest Tennessee Reconnect: first “it’s the right thing to do”, it is a proven way to get the attention of students, referencing to the Tennessee Promise, a similarly program aimed at high school seniors and the final reason being workforce development.

“At the heart of everything we can do, if we can say we will have that workforce you need then we will be ready,” Haslam said. “We’re doing it for you, but selfishly we’re doing it for us too, because we want to be able to go tell anybody we have those folks you need.”

Tennessee Higher Education Commission Executive Director Mike Krause said equipping adult students with technical or college education will fundamentally change the economy in West Tennessee.

“I hope that what we saw (today) is a culture change in West Tennessee around adults going to college,” Krause said. “I hope that we see any adult that wanted to either upgrade their skills or had some college but no degree get the opportunity to earn a credential. That will change the culture. It will change the health of this region. We’ve laid the foundation today.”

Krause said applications for potential adult Southwest Tennessee Reconnect students will open Feb. 15 at and once a student applies he or she will be connected to their local technical or community college.

Reach Omer Yusuf at (731) 425-9637, [email protected], or on Twitter: @OmerAYusuf.

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