TCAT open house aims to attract adults to Tennessee Reconnect

Knoxville News Sentinel, MJ Slaby

Tennessee Reconnect has the same message as Tennessee Promise, but this time for adults, organizers said. It’s about making college possible.

“This is the shot. This is the opportunity,” said Mike Krause, executive director of Drive to 55 in the Office of Gov. Bill Haslam.

Tennessee Reconnect allows financial aid-eligible adults to attend any Tennessee College of Applied Technology tuition-free. Earlier this year, Haslam announced the initiative, which starts in fall 2015 and is a last-dollar scholarship that covers remaining tuition and mandatory fees after other financial aid is applied.

On Saturday, all 27 TCAT campuses across the state will have open house events. Scholarship Saturday is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Knoxville campus, 1100 Liberty St.

Patrick Wade, assistant director of TCAT in Knoxville, said staff will be there to answer questions, and potential students can use the computer lab to sign up for Reconnect that day, before the May 15 deadline.

Local community leaders and industry leaders will also serve as Reconnect ambassadors to spread the word about the program and to inform potential students about industry needs, Krause said.

“Reconnect at its core has to be a local initiative,” he said.

To prepare for more students through Reconnect, Wade said the Knoxville campus is planning more night programs – something started about eight months ago – as well as more classes at satellite locations.

He said all the programs are for in-demand occupations and the campus is required to have at least a 70 percent job placement rate and 60 percent completion rate. For the Knoxville campus, Wade said placement is 86 percent and completion is 81 percent. And even with an increase in students, he said the placement rate will continue to exceed that requirement.

“A lot of the industries are telling us they need more,” Wade said.

Krause said adults attending higher education are essential to the governor’s Drive to 55 initiative, which has a goal of 55 percent of Tennesseans with a college degree or certificate by 2025.

“We are mathematically unable to reach the Drive to 55 goals with just 18-year-old students,” he said.

Plus, the TCAT model allows adult students to balance school with jobs and family obligations, he said. After students pick an area of study, the program is laid out for them, and they don’t have to worry about what class comes next, Krause said.

And the initiative lifts barriers, Wade said.

“It’s going to be a game changer,” he said. “People don’t think about going back to school because of the costs.”

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