Program helps adults reconnect with education

Knoxville News Sentinel, Editorials

Most of the good news about education in Tennessee understandably has centered on Tennessee Promise, the plan to provide last-dollar scholarships beginning in the fall for students attending one of the state’s community colleges.

Less attention has been given to Tennessee Reconnect, a program that Gov. Bill Haslam launched in January. This program will provide the last-dollar tuition award for adults at the state’s 27 Colleges of Applied Technology.

Tennessee Reconnect is aptly named because its goal is to help adults reconnect with education, specifically learning a skill that will offer them the opportunity for a brighter economic future.

Some students attending the Tennessee College of Applied Technology’s Knoxville campus hold part-time or full-time jobs while participating in one of the 19 programs offered by the school. Some of the students’ current employers cooperate by allowing them to adjust their work schedules to attend classes.

Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect are part of the state’s Drive to 55 initiative to help high school graduates and adults without college experience earn a degree or certificate. The goal is for 55 percent of the population to have degrees or certificates by 2025.

According to the Tennessee Reconnect website, there are between 900,000 and 1 million adults in the state who have taken some college courses but never completed requirements for a degree.

Mike Krause, executive director of the Drive to 55 initiative and Tennessee Promise, said adults focus on one big question: “How does higher education work with my life?”

This is a different question than an 18-year-old might ask, he noted. With the adults, Krause said, “They’ve got a family, they’ve got work, and they’re trying to juggle.”

What the TCATs offer is flexibility, an accelerated time frame and employment opportunities upon graduation. The time for most of the courses ranges from 12 to 20 months, and the school’s business partnerships enable the students to take advantage of workplace experience.

More than 80 percent of the TCAT students complete their program, with 86 percent placed in their field, according to records from the school. The average student age for the more than 900 students who attended the school last fall was in the early to mid-30s. However, school officials say it is not uncommon to see students in their 50s and 60s and many working adults who would qualify for Tennessee Reconnect.

The Knoxville school, like many community colleges, is preparing for an influx of new students. In TCAT’s case, the new students will include possibly hundreds of adults looking to Tennessee Reconnect as well as the 600 high school graduates taking advantage of Tennessee Promise who listed TCAT as one of their top choices.

It is an enviable place for this Knoxville school that has been providing quality post-secondary education for decades. Through Tennessee Reconnect, the school will be helping many more adult Tennesseans take a big step in their careers and lives.

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