Because of the impact it could have on the education of many area adults, a major change to the state’s Tennessee Reconnect program tied for No. 9 on the Cleveland Daily Banner’s list of Top …
Because of the impact it could have on the education of many area adults, a major change to the state’s Tennessee Reconnect program tied for No. 9 on the Cleveland Daily Banner’s list of Top 10 Newsmakers for 2017.
Tennessee Reconnect is a statewide program which provides last-dollar scholarships to adults at the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology. In August 2018, the program will begin providing last-dollar scholarships at the state’s 13 community colleges, including Cleveland State Community College.
On Jan. 30, Gov. Bill Haslam proposed the Tennessee Reconnect Act to help more adults earn college degrees at no cost to them. This expansion of the Tennessee Reconnect program would be similar to the Tennessee Promise program, which had been providing last-dollar scholarships to recent high school graduates since 2015.
“With the Reconnect Act, Tennessee would be the first in the nation to offer all citizens — both high school students and adults — access to a degree or certificate free of tuition and fees,” Haslam said.
A last-dollar scholarship is a scholarship which fills in the financial gaps after a student has any other scholarships or grants applied to his or her account. Such scholarships help keep students from having to look for other ways to fund their educations, such as taking out student loans.
This proposal was said to be part of Haslam’s “Drive to 55”?initiative, which represents the goal of at least 55 percent of Tennesseans earning college degree or certificates by 2025.
In March, state legislators passed the Tennessee Reconnect Act, which allowed community colleges to start making plans for the new scholarship program.
As Cleveland State held celebrations for its 50th anniversary in 2017, it had another reason to celebrate. The state’s “promise” had led to an opportunity for more students to “reconnect” and finish their college educations.
“It’s just another sign that Gov. Haslam and our state legislators are continuing to be ahead of the curve when it comes to higher education,” Cleveland State President Dr. Bill Seymour said during one such celebration. “This is going to be providing more opportunities for adults across Tennessee. … “We’ve seen the success of Tennessee Promise program. We’re expecting good things with Tennessee Reconnect.”
Tennessee Reconnect will be available to nontraditional adult students starting college in the Fall 2018 semester.
To be eligible, a person must not already have an associate’s degree or higher and must be a Tennessee resident for at least one full year before applying.
Like the existing Tennessee Promise program, Tennessee Reconnect does not have any initial academic requirements. However, a student must stay enrolled part-time (at least six credit hours) in an associate’s degree program and continuously earn a 2.0 GPA in order to stay eligible for the scholarship.
This scholarship will be good at all 13 of the state’s community colleges, along with a handful of universities in Tennessee which offer associate’s degrees.
“Just as we did with Tennessee Promise, we’re making a clear statement to families: wherever you might fall on life’s path, education beyond high school is critical to the Tennessee we can be,” Haslam said.
Seymour noted that Cleveland State and other community colleges across the state have been seeing a decrease in the number of nontraditional adult students currently enrolled in college.
“Our adult student enrollment has been declining for several years now, as you often see when the area’s unemployment rate is low,”?Seymour said earlier this year.
The college president said the Tennessee Reconnect program is expected to help increase enrollment, because it will help eliminate one big concern for many would-be students — money.
As the Fall 2018 semester approaches, faculty and staff at Cleveland State are looking at ways they can address another concern, that of inconvenient scheduling.
“This will lead to a radical change in how we approach scheduling,” Seymour said. “We’re realizing its not so much about about traditional students seeking degrees; it is more about those who are working full-time, are underemployed and want to earn college degrees so they can start new careers.”
A committee formed at the college has been looking at providing new cohort programs and revamping class schedules to make attending college more convenient for those leading busy lives. These include those who might already be working full-time and/or raising children.
Seymour said the college is considering adding “weekend college” program, which would allow students to attend classes just two days a week — on Friday nights and Saturdays mornings. The college is also looking at introducing cohort programs which would involve weeknight schedules.
“We decided that adults having money for college is not the only thing keeping adults from going to college,” Seymour said. “It also has to be convenient, so it can fit into their busy lives.”
As plans for the expansion of Tennessee Reconnect continue taking shape, he said Cleveland State will keep working to expand access to college programs which will help local adults complete their degrees.
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