Tennessee's community colleges welcome more than 80,000 students – including adult learners in new tuition-free TN Reconnect program – on first day of fall semester

Students walking to class at Tennessee's community colleges

More than 80,000 students open a new academic year today at Tennessee’s 13 public community colleges, where they’ll find an array of new facilities, programs and welcome back celebrations.

The first day of classes will include the fourth entering group of Tennessee Promise students, as well as thousands of adult learners in the newly expanded Tennessee Reconnect program – two groundbreaking initiatives that allow students to attend college tuition-free. TN Promise, the program for new high school graduates going directly to college, went into effect with the high school Class of 2015 and now launches its fourth year.

And effective this semester, virtually any independent Tennessee adult without a college degree or certificate is eligible for TN Reconnect, regardless of whether they have any previous college experience. By last week, more than 30,000 adults had applied for Reconnect. Several thousand are expected to enroll and start classes, but exact numbers won’t be known until the official 14th day of classes census.

“I cannot overstate how proud I am of the many Tennesseans who are going back to college today to complete a degree or who are going to college for the first time,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who proposed both scholarship programs.

“Tennessee Reconnect and Tennessee Promise are doing exactly what we hoped they would do: providing people with the resources and encouragement to go to college, earn a degree or certificate, and enter the workforce prepared to succeed. Tennessee is leading the nation in making college accessible for anyone,” the governor said.

Haslam proposed TN Promise and TN Reconnect as part of his broader Drive to 55 initiative to increase the number of Tennesseans with a college degree or high-value postsecondary certificate to 55 percent by 2025.

The College System of Tennessee’s 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology “have spent the past year preparing for an influx of adult learners, and we’re excited to see our plans move into action this week,” said Dr. Heidi Leming, vice chancellor for student success at the Tennessee Board of Regents, the system’s governing board.

“Specific work has been done to re-align foundation dollars and to seek additional community support to provide book scholarships, emergency aid, and other financial assistance that adults might need outside of the Reconnect scholarship. Our institutions have also done a lot of work to educate faculty and staff to identify the particular needs of adult learners and how to advise them on the resources available to support our students’ success,” Leming said.

Tennessee’s community colleges span the state, from Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis to Northeast State Community College in Blountville and the Tri-Cities area.

They offer two-year associate degrees and certificates in a broad variety of disciplines. And 70 Tennessee Transfer Pathways guarantee that credits earned in the Pathways will transfer to Tennessee’s public universities and to 23 private universities that have signed onto the program.

The Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology, which operate on a trimester calendar, start their fall trimester classes Sept. 4 (except TCAT Chattanooga, which starts classes today along with Chattanooga State Community College).

All the colleges have various Welcome Week activities planned for new and returning students. Some colleges are offering community service opportunities as part of their Welcome Week activities.

The colleges also have been busy upgrading facilities and creating new programs for student success in preparation for the fall semester. A sampling:

  • Chattanooga State Community College’s new Horticulture Complex is opening, as is a new building at the college’s Kimball site in Marion County to expand services there. ChattState also has a new Adult Learner student organization, established by a TN Reconnect student. And the college’s College Success Courses will debut the ISLO (Institutional Student Learning Outcomes) Escape Room experience, demonstrating the connection to skills that employers are looking for in graduates. The college has also established a new food pantry on campus, a Helping Hands emergency fund for students, and clothing vouchers for students who may need gently used professional clothing and interview attire.
  • Cleveland State Community College is opening a new Veterans Resource Center later in the fall, to house veterans affairs staff and to provide a veterans’ student lounge area.
  • Columbia State Community College is launching a new undergraduate science research program, in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science Alliance, and is also offering three internationalized pre-health sciences courses this fall, with a study-abroad component in the spring semester. Course internationalization involves inclusion of topics that enhance global and cultural awareness. And students at the college’s fast-growing Williamson Campus can ride Franklin Transit’s fixed-route services free of charge by showing their student IDs.
  • Dyersburg State Community College, which is launching its 50thanniversary year, has completed extensive renovations of its nursing lab, serving students in the college’s nursing programs.
  • Motlow State Community College held a groundbreaking ceremony earlier this summer for a state-of-the-art Automation and Robotics Training Center adjacent to the Tennessee College of Applied Technology and Motlow’s McMinnville campus. When it opens, it will train skilled workers to support existing and new industries throughout the area as they increase use of industrial robots.
  • Nashville State Community College will be hosting Pizza with the President with new President Dr. Shanna L. Jackson, and holding student appreciation days after classes start. The college held a community celebration Friday to mark the start of work on the future home of a new campus in Madison. The college is working with the Tennessee Department of Transportation to enable TDOT employees to pursue an Associate in Applied Science degree in Architectural, Civil and Construction Engineering Technology.
  • Roane State Community College’s Campbell County campus has a new science laboratory wing, allowing students there to complete lab courses in their community.
  • Southwest Tennessee Community College is opening a new Veteran’s Center during a ceremony Tuesday. The college will also on Tuesday announce its $175,000 investment in new automotive lab equipment, which will significantly improve the learning experience of students in automotive technology and better prepare them for careers in the field.

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.