Editorial: Plan for Tennessee college success considers more than just high school grads

Feb. 10, 2014 @ 11:14 PM

With Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Drive to 55” initiative, the state government has placed a great emphasis on increased enrollment — and completion — of postsecondary education by Tennesseans.

Haslam’s administration believes increasing the education level of the state’s adult population — from current levels of 32 percent to 55 percent with college degrees or certificates by 2025 — would help make Tennessee a go-to site for businesses seeking a ready workforce.

In turn, it would help the state’s economy and the standard of living for all citizens.

It’s a lofty goal. The governor has already taken a few important steps to helping facilitate the plan.

Chief among those was last week’s announcement of Tennessee Promise — a commitment to two years of free community college for graduating high school students.

But older Tennesseans who didn’t attend or complete college shouldn’t fret. The state is offering them help, too.

With generations of Tennesseans either unemployed or underemployed because of uncompleted degrees or a complete lack of college or technical training, the Tennessee Reconnect plan would fund adults’ attendance at colleges of applied technology, free of tuition.

What about adults with greater ambition than technical training, who still face economic barriers to returning to the classroom? Why limit them to colleges of applied technology?

Many adults look back on their youth and dwell on missed opportunities. When seeking to increase the state’s rate of college-educated adults, why not give those seasoned citizens the same opportunities provided graduating seniors?

Believe it or not, there’s a little-known aspect of Tennessee’s Hope Scholarship already in existence for those non-traditional students.

These guidelines come directly from the state. Help is available. Potential students must:

  • Be age 25 or older and enroll in an eligible postsecondary institution as an entering freshman, or have not been enrolled for at least two years after last attending any postsecondary institution, and not earned a baccalaureate degree
  • Earn an adjusted gross income of no more than $36,000 per year
  • Be continuously enrolled at an eligible postsecondary institution in the fall and spring semesters, and maintain satisfactory academic progress
  • Have a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.75 after attempting 12 semester hours
  • Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid by the Sept. 1 deadline date for fall and the Feb. 1 deadline date for spring and summer

As the state has said in its own information about the Drive for 55, “Tennessee has between 900,000 and 1 million adults with some college but no degree. It is impossible to achieve the mission of the Drive to 55 without engaging these nontraditional students.”

The chance for adults to complete their education is a critical component of the governor’s plans. Let’s hope a large group of Sevier Countians will take advantage of the state’s offering and better their situations. It’s a great opportunity.