Encouraging Nashville-area adults to follow their educational attainment aspirations is more than a noble mission. Prioritizing adult education directly affects the bottom line of the Middle Tennessee economy.
How do we tackle this critical need? Nashville resident Sandra Timberlake finished high school but wasn’t able to further her education due to being a single mom on welfare. Her desire to attend college was unattainable until she became involved with community support organizations like the Middle Tennessee Reconnect Community and Christian Community Services, Inc. (CCSI).
After graduating from the CCSI’s welfare-to-work program and attending the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) in Nashville, Timberlake received a TCAT Reconnect Grant. Like many of the 240,000-plus adults in Middle Tennessee who have some college but no degree or the countless others with no college credit, she needed support in order to graduate. It all started with the TCAT Reconnect grant.
Timberlake graduated with multiple honor diplomas and now attends Lipscomb University. With financial aid, scholarship support and the invaluable encouragement from her TCAT Reconnect adviser, she is now a part-time student working toward her bachelor’s degree.
She also works full time at CCSI, helping other adults who find themselves in situations just like hers: on welfare and with no hope for furthering their educations.
Adults entering or returning to school face multiple barriers; but with support, encouragement and guidance from Reconnect advisers, more adults are finding their way to postsecondary success across the region and state.
In Tennessee, more than 900,000 adults have some college credit but no degree or credential. Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative, with its goal for 55 percent of Tennesseans to obtain a degree or credential, is an important piece of the puzzle. However, even if every high school student who graduates between now and 2025 graduates from a postsecondary institution, our state won’t reach that goal.
While the emphasis on the region’s adult learners has gained new visibility through the leadership of the governor and the General Assembly’s prioritization of education, our workforce will be better equipped to meet the needs of current employers and employers who may relocate to the region.
Sandra Timberlake’s life was changed with the help of TCAT Reconnect grants, scholarships and community support. Our state is full of people who share her story – people who have the opportunity to earn a degree or credential and enter into a workforce that is agile, educated and equipped to meet the demands of our region’s economy.
Laura Ward is the director of the Middle Tennessee Reconnect Community, based at the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact her to find out how you or your employer can support adult education attainment efforts in Middle Tennessee by visiting midtnreconnect.org.
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