Haslam unveils higher education drive

Nathan Baker • Sep 5, 2013 at 12:16 PM

In an effort to address the need for skilled labor and a general higher level of education in the state, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced an initiative Wednesday with a goal to ensure that 55 percent of residents hold certificates or degrees beyond high school by 2025.

The governor hopes to make the advances in higher education through the Drive for 55 initiative, which includes increased funding to technical and community colleges for equipment and technology, the establishment of an online university, increased state aid for scholarships and a program aimed at increasing high school students’ levels of competency in math.

“Our biggest issue in Tennessee is this: of the jobs that are going to exist in 2025, 55 percent of them are going to require either a degree or a certificate,” Haslam said during a meeting with the Johnson City Press editorial board Tuesday. “Unfortunately in Tennessee right now, only 32 percent have one of those certificates or degrees. That’s a big gap, we have a major issue.”

To close that gap, the governor said focus is of course needed on current grade-school students, but also on adults in the state who don’t hold a degree beyond high school.

“We want Tennesseans working in Tennessee jobs,” he said. “We want Tennesseans to have an opportunity to get a good job and for those in the workplace to be able to advance and get an even better job.”

To help lead the Drive to 55, Haslam appointed Knoxville CEO and minor league baseball team owner Randy Boyd as his special advisor for higher education.

Boyd, founder and chairman of Radio Systems Corp., started the non-profit tnAchieves in 2009 to fund community college tuition for recent high school graduates.

“Almost every time I talk about the Drive to 55 with someone the first thing they say is ‘This college thing is great, but we need welders and machinists,’ ” he said. “To get those kind of jobs, you have to go to a college of applied technology and get a certificate. Those aren’t unskilled positions any more.”

The new initiative will tackle various aspects of college preparation and graduation, Boyd said, starting with the SAILS program, a supplemental math program designed to educate the 70 percent of students in the state who need remedial instruction once reaching college.

Through the push, community college students will also be incentivized to graduate on time and those who have already dropped out will be enticed to re-enroll.

The initiative will eventually be accompanied by the rollout of a scoreboard for Tennessee higher-ed schools showing costs compared to graduation and job placement rates.

“We need to make all of these institutions accountable for the investments that both we as a state and the students and parents make,” Boyd said. “We need to make sure that we know what we’re getting for our money.”

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