Governor’s budget proposals represent a generational investment in career & technical education

Adult Worker in Construction

Governor Bill Lee’s FY 2023-24 budget proposal to fund a comprehensive upgrade of the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology would be a generational investment in Tennessee’s future that will change lives and benefit our state, communities and students for decades to come, Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Flora W. Tydings said.

The proposed investment would complete the work begun over the last four years to expand our capacity to serve more students with more training – providing Tennesseans with opportunities for great careers and meeting the state’s growing demand for a more highly skilled workforce. The prior investment has already resulted in 2,124 new TCAT students being served.

If approved by the General Assembly, the governor’s new proposal would allocate $945.9 million to fund the 29 major projects on TCAT campuses statewide in the TCAT Master Plan, and $50.6 million in maintenance funding for 15 projects at all 13 community colleges and 24 other improvements at 14 TCATs.

The TCAT Master Plan has been under development for four years. Planners and designers conducted on-site comprehensive reviews and space audits at all 24 of the technical colleges and their branch locations; consulted with each college’s president, faculty and regional advisory groups, which include business and industries in their areas, and reviewed state and local area workforce needs.

The planners found that approximately half of the square footage of TCAT facilities are more than 50 years old, built in the 1960s and 1970s for a different era in technical education and industry needs. Many building systems – roofs, HVAC, electrical, plumbing, etc.) are reaching the end of their useful lives; spaces are not designed for modern equipment and teaching methods, and many facilities lack modern amenities, including air conditioning, accessible restrooms, and modern finishes. The older facilities are expensive to modernize for the career and technical skills needed in the 21st Century. 

Principles used in developing the TCAT Master Plan included efficiency, flexibility and adaptability. Its goal is to enable the training of 10,000 more Tennesseans annually. The Master Plan was approved by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission on Jan. 27 and the State Building Commission on Feb. 9. 

In addition, the governor’s budget proposal would equip the new TCAT campus under development at Blue Oval City, expand the Governor’s Correctional Education Investment initiative to train incarcerated individuals for productive careers after their release, and increase funding through the outcomes-based funding formula for public higher education, which covers a portion of our community and technical colleges’ operations.

In his 2023 State of the State address, Gov. Lee said the TCAT Master Plan funding would be the “largest investment in our technical colleges in state history” and is needed to help prepare Tennessee for the future. “Our state’s economic success can also be measured by the number of jobs created – 170,000 new jobs in just four years. Now, our workforce pipeline must keep up.

“Pathways to success don’t look the same for every Tennessean, nor should they. For many, a certification from one of our Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology will open the right doors. Since 2019, we've prioritized TCAT construction across this state, so more Tennesseans can kickstart a great career close to home. Today, nearly 9 out of 10 graduates get a job in the field they studied,” he said. 

During his address to a joint session of the General Assembly at the State Capitol, the governor introduced Brad Barnard in the House gallery, who enrolled at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology Morristown while working at a local factory for 33 years. “Brad was first introduced to TCAT Morristown in 2015 through an apprenticeship opportunity, and in 2021, he decided to enroll full time and earn his diploma.

“Now, at a young 54 years old, Brad is enjoying a second career as a programmer with McNeilus Steel Incorporated, a company that we recruited to Tennessee in 2019. This is why we invest in TCATs. This is why we recruit great companies to Tennessee,” Gov. Lee said. “Meaningful work changes lives, and we don’t have to look far to see the results.”

Tennessee community and technical colleges are not only the college of choice for students seeking short-term training for high-wage careers but are a driving force for businesses choosing to relocate or expand their operations in Tennessee. Strategic partnerships between TBR – The College System of Tennessee and local businesses have laid the foundation for a workforce pipeline that eliminates concern in finding qualified and highly skilled labor – an enticing incentive at a time when nationwide labor shortages are still high. 

“As we recruit industry to Tennessee, one of the deciding factors is whether or not we have a trained workforce readily available and the educational system to retrain and upskill,” said Bradley Jackson, president and CEO of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “It makes our job easy when we tell them our state has prioritized technical training through our community colleges and TCATs and can provide customized training if needed.”

The College System partners with industry experts to develop short-term programs leading to credentials aligned with industry need. What makes the partnership even more attractive is the ability to provide employers with rapid response technical training that adapts to changes within the company’s environment. These collaborations make Tennessee stand out as a place where industry can thrive and be assured they can maintain a skilled workforce.

And opportunities are not only available to high school graduates and older Tennesseans. Previous investments by the state have more than tripled the number of high school students dual-enrolled at the TCATs in seven years – from 2,544 students in Fall 2015 to 9,533 in Fall 2022.

Dual enrollment enables high school students to take college courses and earn college credit. Several students have earned career and technical education diplomas and certificates by the time they graduate from high school. Last year, the General Assembly increased from four to five the number of dual enrollment college courses the state will pay for per student. Additional courses are available at discounted rates. 

The College System of Tennessee is the state’s largest public higher education system, with 13 community colleges, 24 colleges of applied technology and the online TN eCampus serving approximately 140,000 students. The system is governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents.