USDA Rural Development grant to Tennessee Board of Regents will assist workforce readiness in Chester, Decatur, Henderson & Perry counties

Chester Co. Schools Director Troy Kilzer, TBR Chancellor Flora W. Tydings, USDA Rural Development TN State Director Jim Tracy sign grant papers to assist workforce in Chester, Decatur, Henderson, Perry counties

U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development has awarded the Tennessee Board of Regents a $250,000 Rural Community Development Initiative grant to improve educational and workforce readiness in four rural counties.

TBR, which governs Tennessee’s 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology, will work with the National Rural Education Association (NREA) and five local school systems to provide financial and technical assistance to improve community and economic development in Chester, Decatur, Henderson and Perry counties. The school districts are the county school systems in those four counties, plus Lexington City Schools.

Important components of the grant project are increasing technical career awareness among K-12 students and increasing dual enrollment opportunities that allow high school students to take classes to earn college credit and technical career certifications at the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) serving the area. Resources will be allocated for dual-enrolled students to earn certifications that pave the way for careers in their fields, including the National Career Readiness Certification.

The grant will also provide for a regional digital portal to support curriculum development and provide a one-stop access to resources and tool kits for school staff, parents and students.

USDA Rural Development Tennessee State Director Jim Tracy, TBR Chancellor Flora W. Tydings and Chester County Schools Director Troy Kilzer, representing the five school systems, signed grant documents at a ceremony Friday at the Tennessee Board of Regents system office. 

Tracy said the grant program proposal submitted by TBR is the first of its kind to be funded by USDA and that it can serve as a model for similar programs across the nation.

“The agency is excited to provide local investments in Chester, Decatur, Henderson and Perry County through the USDA Rural Community Development Initiative Grant,” Tracy said. “The Tennessee Board of Regents, our grant awardee, with support from the National Rural Education Association has identified an innovative regional approach to workforce development which advances rural prosperity.

“This four-county effort lead by TBR will leverage community funding and subject matter experts while maximizing resources to improve access to a qualified rural workforce.  USDA is excited about this opportunity with the Tennessee Board of Regents and its potential to advance rural prosperity,” he said.

TBR Chancellor Flora W. Tydings thanked Tracy and USDA for the funding, which will be matched by $250,000 from the communities to be served. “USDA’s partnership with our technical colleges and the five school districts is going to make this project a success by improving workforce readiness and the ability of students to receive valuable career training that will improve their lives, their families’ lives and the economic status of their communities for generations to come,” she said.

“This initiative will also serve Gov. Bill Lee’s focus on economically distressed counties. All four counties are designated as either distressed, at-risk or transitional. USDA Rural Development has supported our colleges and students elsewhere across the state, and this is another example of what State Director Tracy and the agency are doing to improve the lives of Tennesseans,” she said.

The grant will enable more effective uses of regional labor market data for better career alignment and greater economic impact. While TBR’s 40 institutions already work closely with K-12 school systems across the state, the grant will allow the TCATs serving the four counties – including TCATs Jackson and Crump, to work more closely with K-12 students on technical career awareness at an earlier age and dual enrollment for high school students.

The TBR campuses will also work with the school systems and business and industry leaders to develop high school and college curriculums to meet the area’s workforce needs -- and to have access to national best practices on career identification and development of career plans.

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.