Tennessee Reconnect offers free education for adults

Friday, April 17, 2015

By Ivory Riner

Staff Writer

A program to help adults afford college-level classes and advanced training should lead to better-paying jobs and a higher standard of living for Tennesseans who never had the chance to get more than a high-school education, a state education official told economic development board members.

With jobs becoming harder to get for workers who do not have postsecondary education, the Tennessee Reconnect Drive to 55 initiative aims to help train and qualify the workforce.

"One of (Gov. Bill) Haslam's greatest ideas was to encourage and promote higher education for adults," said Tony Creecy, director of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) in Shelbyville.

Creecy explained the importance of the Tennessee Reconnect program at Tuesday's Joint Economic Community Development Board meeting.

After launching the TnPromise program, which provided high school students two years of free community college, Tennessee Reconnect was set up to give adults the same chance.

Getting a degree or certification prepares adults for higher paying jobs, Creecy said.

The program, like TnPromise, covers any expenses after an adult student receives a Pell Grant or other financial aid.

Tennessee is eighth in the nation for having the lowest percentage of people with higher education, Creecy told board members.

The Drive to 55 initiative aims to have 55% of Tennesseans getting college degrees or other training certificates by 2025.

A large number of adults started some sort of postsecondary education but didn't complete it.

"It's a win-win situation. These people are getting a diploma at no cost and the companies are gaining certified workers," said Greg Lowe, director of Economic Development.

Although Tennessee Reconnect is only available now at the 27 TCAT locations, adults will qualify for money to attend the state's 13 two-year community colleges beginning in 2016.

The program isn't just for those who want a college degree. Creecy said the top three most popular programs at TCAT in Pulaski are welding, industrial maintenance and industrial electricity.

"Two main barriers I am seeing stopping adults from getting a certificate or degree are finances and time. Now they can no longer say they can't afford an education," said Lowe.

Adults interested in the current program must sign up by May 15 and file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid by June 15.

In other development board news:

* A class of 24 students signed up to complete the 2 + 2 Columbia State Community College and Middle Tennessee State University Agribusiness program. Students earn an Associate of Science degree from CSCC and go on to get a bachelor's degree in Agribusiness from MTSU by taking classes at the CSCC Lewisburg campus.

* On April 23 Rachel Durham, Marshall Education Foundation's FAFSA Advisor, will help first-time Columbia State students sign up for fall semester classes.

* After several months under construction, the Marshall County Courthouse is ready for landscape work, said Joe Boyd Liggett, Marshall County mayor. The county is hiring part-time workers to take care of the landscaping.

* Phil Bolander, mayor of Petersburg, announced that the town is in need of police officers and a police chief.

* Manufacturing Day will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:40 p.m. today at Marshall County High School.