Officials from the college’s Cleveland and Athens campuses as well as some from the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Athens shared views of what was working for area colleges and what might need to be changed.
Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan said colleges statewide had been doing a better job of preparing students for the workforce.
“Our role was to support the state’s development needs,” Morgan said. “I think it’s working.”
He said continuing to have positive outcomes depended on the presence of funding. He asked legislators to support a proposal that would give $29 million to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission next fiscal year. Of that, he said $120,000 would be given to Cleveland State.
With Gov. Bill Haslam tentatively set to introduce a draft of the latest state budget on Feb. 3, Morgan said it would be a matter of waiting to see if that would be added.
State Sen. Mike Bell cautioned everyone that the request was being made when state revenues have been seeing a decrease.
Sen. Todd Gardenhire echoed the sentiment, noting state government has also been under pressure to cut taxes, and such cuts would lessen the pool of available money even further.
Morgan said he was “hopeful” Haslam will approve the measure.
He encouraged the college administrators in attendance to make sure they make their accomplishments known.
“It really is critical that outcomes as they occur get recognized,” Morgan said.
TBR Vice Chancellor David Gregory praised the statewide “Drive to 55” initiative introduced by Haslam that seeks to make the percentage of Tennesseans with college degrees or professional certifications reach 55 percent by 2025.
Gregory praised state colleges’ efforts to introduce programs like SAILS [Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support], a program to help prepare high schoolers’ math skills for college-level work.
“It’s been unparalleled to see the shift toward the student,” he said.
However, Gregory added colleges need to work harder to “get people we’re not now getting” into college.
After discussion about what area colleges were doing to get more students in college, Gardenhire asked what legislative changes might be needed to assist area colleges.
Representatives from Cleveland State and the Athens campus of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology suggested staying in touch with local campuses.
Morgan said he did not know of any issues besides funding that really needed to be addressed.
“I think our policy framework is really good,” Morgan said. “We’d be bringing those to you if changes were needed.”
Seymour, who recently started as Cleveland State’s president, said he was still working to learn the needs of the college.
One thing he noticed was the age of the college’s buildings, which had been built in the 1960s and 1970s.
He said the staff had been doing a good job of keeping the college functioning, but the buildings might not immediately come across as cutting-edge facilities when prospective students visit for the first time.
“It’s important they walk away with the impression that ... this is a good place,” Seymour said.
He said having money to update college buildings was also a concern for his previous employer, the TBR-run Jackson State Community College.
Another concern was continuing to make sure that Cleveland State is paying attention to what area manufacturers want recent college graduates to know.
Tommy Wright, vice president of finance and adminstration, said the college has been actively trying to do that by hosting “listening tours” for local companies.
In addition, the college has been working more with manufacturers as part of its workforce development center. The college has recently been talking with companies like Merck, McKee Foods and Volkswagen about helping them assess potential employees.
Earlier in the discussion, TBR Vice Chancellor for Community Colleges Warren Nichols made a point of clarifying that, while the SAILS program was being offered statewide, it originated at Cleveland State.
Cleveland State Vice President of Academic Affairs Denise King said the college would be continuing to work on introducing programs to help students succeed.
She added the college was also looking into changing the structure of some of its degree programs to help more students graduate.