There are fewer limitations on Tennessee Promise than many people may realize. Not only does it guarantee that high school graduates will be able to go to community colleges, it extends the same promise to those graduates who want a technical education.
That opportunity is coming to Lebanon when, in February, Tennessee College of Applied Technology will be offering two programs - practical nursing and computer information technology - at the old Lebanon High School vocational center. And there are several more classes to come.
But now's the time to take advantage of this new part of the promise.
"Students need to start signing up for classes now because the number of openings are limited," said Mae Perry, director for the Lebanon, Hartsville and Boiling Springs campuses of Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT).
Each of the classes is limited to 20 students, she added. "And in May, we will be adding a welding class, with advanced manufacturing classes starting in September," she said.
Three ways to pay
Under Tennessee Promise and two other programs, most students will be able to attend these classes at no cost to them. All of the programs offered are eligible to have tuition paid for through Pell grants, the Tennessee Education Lottery grants, or Tennessee Promise - the same as for community college programs - if the student has either a regular high school diploma or a GED.
Students with no high school diploma can still attend TCAT but will have to pay their own fees.
Classes will be held in the old Lebanon High School vocational education center, but you may not recognize the place once you pass the front door, because - under Perry's supervision - TCAT has made major renovations.
The building has all fresh paint and new flooring, as well as some new walls and new furniture. As you enter the building, you face the admissions office and student services area.
To the right and left, four halls lead to modern, attractive classrooms, all well-equipped to help students learn their chosen trades.
Like a 'real' hospital room
The new furniture includes not only desks and chairs, but specialized equipment for each class. The nursing lab, for example, will have desks at one end of the classroom, but hospital beds and other hospital equipment will simulate a hospital room across the classroom.
Students completing that 20-month program will be able to sit for national and state exams in practical nursing to become LPNs.
The computer lab will feature 20 new computers for students to learn computer skills, which will also lead to certification.
When the welding program starts in May, the welding lab will have all the machines needed for students to learn ARC welding, MIG and TIG welding, pipefitter, TAC and repair welding. Students completing this program will have the opportunity to receive credentials from the American Welding Association.
The programs will keep expanding as demand and space permits, according to Perry.
"We will offer machine tool and diesel mechanic programs, and plan to have a HVACR program, too," she said. "Plus, we want to offer culinary arts, and we plan to offer a health sciences program at Watertown."
85 percent find jobs
The center will also do specialized career testing, industrial training and job placement for several local industries. You heard that right -not only will the center train students to do jobs needed by local employers, it will have a job placement service to help students connect with local companies like Permobil, Lochinvar and Famous Footwear.
According to TCAT statistics, over 85 percent of graduates were placed in jobs during 2011-2012. And employers rated those graduates above 96 percent on knowledge, technical skill, work quality and work attitude.
Perry explained that even though TCAT and community college tuition both can be paid through Tennessee Promise, the two are different. Community colleges offer academic programs that may lead to a degree or offer credits to be transferred to a university, while TCAT offers programs that lead to certification and qualification for employment.
The Tennessee Board of Regents has three different higher-education programs that they supervise, she said. TCAT is one program, the community college system is another, and third is the state's universities, excluding the University of Tennessee.
Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.