Pellissippi launches ‘weekend college’ as Tennessee schools prepare for more adult learners

Working full-time at a local Burger King meant it hasn’t been easy for Kejoria Griffin to find the time to take college classes.

That changed this year though when she enrolled in a medical scribe program at Pellissippi State Community College, where she takes classes for more than three hours every Saturday but keeps her weekdays free.

Griffin is among more than 140 students to enroll in “Weekend College,” a new program at Pellissippi’s Magnolia Avenue Campus that offers weekend classes catered to adult learners who might not have the time or resources to attend class during the week.

“I like that I can go to school and work at the same time,” said Griffin, 24. “I go to school on the weekend and work during the week, so it works out good.”

Effort inspired by Tennessee Reconnect 

The program is part of an effort Pellissippi is making to connect with adult students ahead of a statewide roll-out of Tennessee Reconnect, which will offer last-dollar scholarships to adults seeking a college degree.

The program is slated to start next fall, but colleges across Tennessee are already preparing for an increase in adult learners with programs of their own.

“We’re not changing a lot so much as making certain we provide the same services to our adult learners (as we do to traditional students),” said Ted Lewis, vice president of academic affairs at Pellissippi State.

He said the college has developed additional support services and advisers dedicated to helping adult students.

Earlier this year, it expanded the Leg-Up Child Care Assistance Program, a partnership run in conjunction with the Tennessee Department of Human Services to provide child care payment assistance and mentoring to single parents while they continue their education.

Pellissippi also launched their own version of the Tennessee Reconnect scholarship for 2017-2018. Reconnect Now is a last-dollar scholarship for Pellissippi students that covers tuition and mandatory fees for qualified adult students. The program will roll into Tennessee Reconnect when it takes off next fall.

Colleges across state target adult learners

Pellissippi has seen a “huge response” to Reconnect Now, according to Heidi Leming, interim vice chancellor for student success at the Tennessee Board of Regents, who said community colleges across the state are exploring similar initiatives in preparation for an influx of adult students. TBR oversees 13 community colleges and 27 technical colleges across the state.

“The impact is probably going to be mostly at the community college level,” Leming said. “When we look at the adult learner population, we know many of them are already working so it’s a lot easier for them to think about a shorter time frame for a college degree. Community college is really attractive because they can do that in two years.”

At Nashville State Community College, Director of Admissions and Recruiting Laura Moran said Tennessee Reconnect is driving efforts to shape the college experience for adult students. As of 2016, more than 4,000 of the school’s 9,500 student population were adult learners age 25 and up.

That number has dropped slightly this year, something Moran said is likely explained by students waiting to start their education in the fall of 2018 when the state Reconnect scholarship will become available.

In the meantime, she said the college is also considering scheduling changes like adding more weekend classes and is preparing to open a “Reconnect Cafe,” where adult students can get help with financial aid, childcare or transportation.

They’ll also be looking at developing “road maps” for students so they have a clear understanding of what steps they need to take in order to graduate on a certain degree path.

The idea is similar to the planned roll-out of three-year bachelor’s degree plans at Carson-Newman University, where officials said the new plans were inspired by Tennessee Reconnect and the recent reinstatement of year-round Pell Grants.

The idea is expected to help students save money and graduate more quickly, providing an advantage to adult students seeking to get back into the workforce.

At Pellissippi, Griffin has already taken advantage of the Reconnect Now scholarship and the only thing she has had to pay for are her books, she said.

“I have friends that work 12-hour shifts and still go to school on the weekend,” she said. “If you’re really dedicated, I feel like anybody can do it. You just have to be dedicated and weigh your options out on what you have to do.”

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