Bill and Melinda Gates praise Technology Centers, TBR efforts

Billionaire philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates say they’re impressed with what’s happening with education reform in Tennessee, including programs at the Tennessee Board of Regents.

The couple toured the Tennessee Technology Center in Nashville yesterday during their visit to Tennessee to see how the state’s commitment to reforming education is proceeding.

There they met with TBR Chancellor John Morgan, TTC Nashville Director Mark Lenz, center staff and students. They learned about successes and TBR plans for improving student outcomes. Later, at a press conference with Governor Phil Bredesen and Governor Elect Bill Haslam, the Gates’ praised the state’s efforts.

“Today we were at the Nashville Technology Center to really see an outstanding technology center match students who come in - with real job skills in this market and help them get jobs,” said Melinda Gates.

“And it was really incredible to see the students coming out of a one-year program, going immediately into the job market, sometimes even before they’d finish their certificate. So, we couldn’t be more impressed with what’s going on in Tennessee. We’re here to stay to keep working with this state on the great bold reform efforts because they take effect not only here, but they’re also a model to the nation.”

Bill Gates indicated his excitement about what he saw as well.

“As Melinda said, there are some good models here. The way the community college teams have been made here, we think that’s going to drive people to really track students and help them stay in [school]. It will encourage the use of online, where you can progress at different rates, and so we’ve got a number of projects that are exciting, and we’re very committed to staying involved with those.”

He also commented on the processes used to enhance learning at the TTC.

“At the Technology Center, we were seeing people learn hands on. They were learning welding and machine tools and nursing. And part of the reason they have such high completion rates and high placement rates is the cohort, the group of students that are working together. They’re a community, where they get to know each other; they’re supporting each other. There are some great stories there.”

The visit highlights the national spotlight on Tennessee’s education efforts, said Morgan. “Our institutions have great successes to show, and the progress we make in the coming years will be the result of good strategic planning and some very dedicated faculty and staff.”

On Wednesday the couple stopped in Memphis to visit one of the city’s K-12 schools. The Gates Foundation has committed $90 million in support to Memphis City Schools to improve teacher quality.

The College System of Tennessee is the state’s largest public higher education system, with 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology and the online TN eCampus serving approximately 140,000 students. The system is governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents.