“I’ll hopefully be able to do new and bolder things, but I have to confess that I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for (Haslam), his guidance and his example,” the Knoxville native answered during a brief Q&A session.
Boyd then mentioned he was intent on fulfilling the “Drive to 55,” a state initiative that aims to put a college degree or certificate in the hands of 55 percent of Tennesseans by 2025.
“It’s something I want to see finished,” Boyd, who served as Haslam’s commissioner of economic development, said.
“I’ll say there is a difference maybe in emphasis. The focus on the technical and vocational schools will be a matter of emphasis. ... The things I want to focus on is making sure we have those technical skills at our high schools and our Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology. We’re going to put a real priority on that.”
Boyd is often credited as the architect of the “Drive to 55” campaign and a fundamental element to the campaign is Tennessee Promise, a scholarship and mentoring program that covers tuition for in-state students at any of Tennessee’s 13 community colleges or 27 colleges of applied technology.
But expanding that initiative to cover tuition at all of Tennessee’s four-year colleges just doesn’t seem plausible, Boyd said.
“I really don’t see how the math would work to be able to afford to make a four-year college free. But I think getting the first two years free at a community college and then being able to transfer to a four-year school basically gives you half off, and that’s a great start,” Boyd said.
“Many of the jobs that we need to fill, what’s needed is that certificate from a Tennessee College of Applied Technology or a community college.”
Boyd also mentioned increasing access to vocational and technical education.
As an example, the Republican said a student graduating from Johnson County had no educational options within close proximity.
“We’ve also got some access problems,” Boyd said. “You can go to a technical college for free anywhere in your state, if you can get there. If you happen to live in Mountain City, there is not a single technical college in Johnson County.”
Other items on Boyd’s agenda include elevating Tennessee to No. 1 in the Southeast for high-quality jobs, eliminating all distressed counties by 2025 and addressing the state’s opioid addiction problem.
“We’ve got to get our hands around the opioid crisis,” Boyd said.
“We’re overprescribing. We prescribe 10 times as many opioids as do people in Minnesota. There is no real excuse for that. There are some things we’ve got to look at to get that under control. It’s going to be hard for our state to achieve what it needs to achieve while this is going on.”
Another speaker during Monday’s meeting was McKenzie Lee, chairman of East Tennessee State University’s Conservative Coalition.
Lee said the Washington County Republican Women were assisting ETSU’s Conservative Coalition in finding a storage area on campus.
“The (Washington County) Republican Women mentioned they want to help us get a storage space because there is a whole diversity office and there is a whole LGBTQ office now. I have to keep everything in my apartment or in my car,” Lee said.
She also mentioned a growing number of “secret” conservatives on ETSU’s campus following the 2016 presidential election.
“Conservatives are scared to say they’re conservative nowadays,” Lee said.
As a political science major, Lee mentioned having to hear some viewpoints from professors that she didn’t exactly agree with.
“Most of our teachers are pretty vocal about who they stand for. Whether you’re a (Donald) Trump fan or not, I don’t think it should affect what you teach in a classroom,” Lee said. “I’m afraid that if I did stick up for myself, how do I know that my grades won’t suffer from that?”
Email Zach Vance at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.