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TN Economy Could Shift with Record Community College Enrollment

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – It’s back to school for people of all ages in the Volunteer State, as a record number of adults head to college through the state’s Tennessee Reconnect program.

The grants are available to residents age 25 and older to earn an associate’s degree or technical certificate. The program has seen more than 31,000 applications – almost double what was expected.

Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, said the interest level is indicative of the need.

“We think that that is happening even as our economy is strong because we’ve made an unprecedented offer to these adult students, that they can attend community or technical college tuition-free,” he said, “and that opportunity is one that’s nowhere else in the nation.”

Krause cited the program as one reason community-college enrollment is on the rise in Tennessee when it has been on the decline in other parts of the country. The low unemployment rate means more people are working, and federal funding cutbacks to higher education also have had an impact.

Krause said 48 percent of the people applying for Tennessee Reconnect make less than $25,000 a year, which means they might be living below the poverty line, depending on the number of people in their household. He added that, in the long term, the program will shape the state’s workforce as well as the students’ futures.

“Something important is going on in Tennessee right now that is not going on anywhere else in the nation,” he said. “The opportunity here is for a higher-education credential to transform these Tennesseans’ ability to earn a living income.”

Krause said about two out of three enrollees are women, many looking to support their family and be a role model for their children. He said they’ve heard several anecdotal stories about parents and kids starting college together this semester.

Tennessee Reconnect info is online at tnreconnect.gov, and information on the community-college enrollment trend is at insidehighered.com.

Reported by: Stephanie Carson

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