How higher education can spur economic development
On Jan. 30 Tennessee Governor Haslam announced his plan to make community college free for all Tennessee adults. Following in the footsteps of Tennessee Promise, a 2015 law that created free higher education for high-school graduates, the Reconnect Act would make Tennessee the first US state to offer tuition-free higher education to everyone. So what does this mean for Economic Development? Will the increase of skilled workers lead to job creation in Tennessee? Learn more by reading our exploration and analysis of Tennessee’s free college movement.
Currently, Tennessee needs 871,000 postsecondary degrees or certificates to reach the Governor’s goal of having 55 percent of Tennesseans hold such a degree by 2025. To accomplish this goal, the Governor had previously championed the Tennessee Promise law which offered tuition-free courses to graduating high school students. While it’s still early in the Tennessee Promise story, the results so far have been seen as extremely encouraging. Since the program started, more than 33,000 students have enrolled in college as a result of Tennessee Promise, and of the students who began in fall 2015, 63 percent are still enrolled. These results have encouraged Governor Haslam to announce further education plans during his State of the State address this last Jan. 30.
During his speech the Governor mentioned a few highlights which prompted him to expand the educational offering to more Tennesseans, stating, “at a time when the rest of the nation is wondering what to do about student loans, Tennessee has seen a 17 percent decrease in the number of students taking out loans.” Additionally, the Governor noted, “I am proposing that Tennessee become the first state in the nation to offer all adults access to community college free of tuition and fees. Just like the Tennessee Promise, Tennessee Reconnect will provide last-dollar scholarships for adult learners to attend one of our community colleges for free – and at no cost to the state’s General Fund.”
With the Reconnect Act, Tennessee would be the first in the nation to offer all citizens – both high school students and adults – access to a degree or certificate free of tuition and fees. No caps. No first come, first served. As the Reconnect Act works its way through the legislature, economic leaders in Tennessee are hoping businesses will recognize the value the state is making in growing its’ workforce.