Today is Saturday, June 24, 2017

Drive to 55 is about more than college access

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As the Tennessee Promise has made college attendance a reality for so many more students, we know we have to provide our college campuses with resources they need to teach the skills students need to move into the workforce.

That's why we were pleased this month to award $24.3 million to 10 colleges and universities across the state in grants from our Drive to 55 Capacity Fund.

The funds will help our public universities, community colleges and TCATs increase program capacity in order to meet our objectives in the Drive to 55 - the goal to have 55 percent of our citizens with postsecondary degrees by 2025.

A record number of high school seniors - 60,780 - from the class of 2017 have applied for the Tennessee Promise, which offers enrollment at a community college or technical school free of tuition and fees. But helping those students get into school doesn't help if the schools are not equipped with the facilities and programs needed to produce highly skilled workers.

We've increased the number of students going to college, but it doesn't mean anything if our campuses don't have the capacity to educate them. So the Drive to 55 Capacity Fund is necessary to match those needs.

The capacity fund grants include $5.7 million for a TCAT training facility in Anderson County through the Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Knoxville; $5.5 million for an advanced robotics training facility for Motlow State Community College; and just over $1 million for building capacity for the nursing program at Dyersburg State Community College.

Other grants meet needs at East Tennessee State University's Sevierville program; a Chester County welding program expansion at TCAT-Crump; a Loudon County instructional service center for TCAT-Harriman; a Bartlett satellite campus for TCAT-Memphis; campus expansion for advanced manufacturing at TCAT-Pulaski; a center for poultry science at Tennessee Tech; and a science building addition at Volunteer State Community College.

The grants were the result of a competitive process. Campuses had to demonstrate a plan and their commitment to programs these grants will serve.

Our Drive to 55 can't just be about access to college but about success in college once students get there. We are fortunate that our campuses are interested in expanding their ability to educate students, and we are pleased that the Drive to 55 Capacity Fund is available to follow through.

Working with the Tennessee General Assembly, we have made big strides in changing the conversation about going to college among Tennessee families. The Drive to 55 Capacity Fund is just one more way of helping us reach our goal. Our commitment to providing access to higher education - and training a modern workforce - will continue.

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Bill Haslam, Drive to 55, education, governor, guest column, opinion, schools
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