Four community colleges win grants for high school Mechatronics programs

Mechatronics instructors and students

Four Tennessee community colleges are each receiving a $250,000 state grant to help high school students earn two-year degrees in the high-demand field of mechatronics.

Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Flora W. Tydings announced that Chattanooga State, Cleveland State, Motlow State and Roane State community colleges will receive the funding. The grants were funded by a $1 million appropriation in the Fiscal Year 2018-19 State Budget proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam and approved by the Tennessee General Assembly.

Mechatronics is a blend of mechanical, electrical and computerized technologies forming a complex system. The colleges offer Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degrees in advanced integrated industrial technology, or mechatronics. The training is a blend of precision engineering, control theory, computer science, mathematics and sensory technology.  Mechatronics engineers and technicians work in most advanced manufacturing industries and fields.

The grants will support the colleges’ Middle College Mechatronics Programs. Middle College programs are partnerships between community colleges and the high schools in their service areas, giving high school students opportunities to earn their Associates degrees at the same time they graduate from high school or soon after. The Middle College path will also give them opportunities to earn industry training certifications as part of the degree programs.

Because high school students don’t qualify for college scholarship assistance like Tennessee Promise and Hope Scholarships until they earn their high school diplomas, most of the grants will pay the costs of tuition, fees, textbooks and materials for approximately 300 students who will enroll in the colleges’ Middle College Mechatronics programs.

“Students graduating from a Middle College Mechatronics program have a college degree and the opportunity for a challenging career position – at the age of 18,” said Dr. Robert Denn, the College System’s associate vice chancellor for K-12 initiatives.

“Expansion of Middle College Mechatronics programs will also enable Tennessee to tell major advanced manufacturing and technology-heavy corporations that we produce hundreds of highly-skilled mechatronics graduates each year who are ready to join their team,” Denn said.

The program is also of interest to students who plan to continue their education and earn a bachelor’s degree. The College System of Tennessee has transfer pathways in place with several state universities that guarantee credits earned in the community colleges will be accepted at the universities, as long as students follow the pathway requirements.

The allocation of grant funds was determined by the chancellor based on the colleges’ submissions of their plans for the Middle College Mechatronics project. All four colleges joined together in a Middle College Mechatronics Consortium in support of a pilot program that may be expanded if more state funding becomes available.

“This appropriation grew out of legislation sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire and Rep. John Forgety. We’re grateful to them and to members of the General Assembly and Governor Haslam for adding the funding in the state budget,” said Dr. Kimberly McCormick, the system’s vice chancellor for external affairs. “Students and their families, and Tennessee industry, will benefit for years to come.”

The program will help advance Tennessee’s Drive to 55 initiative to equip at least 55 percent of working-age Tennesseans with a college degree or credential by 2025. For Tennessee to remain competitive in recruiting jobs, the state must continue to produce a trained workforce.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development estimates a deficit of nearly 2,000 mechatronics-qualified workers each year.

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 100,000 students. The system is governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents.