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Alexander Advocates ‘Weeding the Garden’ of Federal Higher Ed Regulations

Press releases from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; March 2, 2015:

Weekly Column by Lamar Alexander

The Higher Education Act totals nearly 1,000 pages. There are more than 1,000 pages in the official Code of Federal Regulations devoted to higher education, and on average every workday the Department of Education issues one new sub-regulatory guidance directive or clarification.

No one has taken the time to weed the garden, and America’s 6,000 colleges and universities are living in a “jungle of red tape” that is expensive, confusing and unnecessary.

The result of this piling up of regulations is that one of the greatest obstacles to innovation and cost consciousness in higher education has become the federal government.

That is why the Senate education committee that I chair held our first hearing this Congress on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act last week, during which we discussed how findings in a report by a group of distinguished educators—and commissioned by Senators Mikulski, Burr, Bennet, and me—can help guide our efforts to weed the garden and allow colleges to spend more of their time and money educating students. Educators who worked on the report included Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nick Zeppos—who co-chaired the effort and also testified at the education committee—and Claude Pressnell, president of the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association.

The document entitled “Recalibrating Regulation of Colleges and Universities,” outlines 59 specific regulations, requirements and areas for Congress and the Department of Education to consider—listing 10 especially problematic regulations.

The report makes clear that colleges and taxpayers expect appropriate regulation. But neither taxpayers nor colleges are well-served by the jungle that exists today. Consumer information that is too complicated to understand is worthless.

Colleges must report the amount of foreign gifts they receive and disclose the number of fire drills that occurred on campus. “Gainful employment” disclosures require 30 different pieces of information for each academic program subject to the regulation.

When a student withdraws from college before a certain time period, a student’s federal money must be returned to the government. This is a simple concept, yet the regulations and guidance implementing this are ridiculously complex – 200 paragraphs of regulatory text accompanied by 200 pages in the Federal Student Aid Handbook.

Institutions offering distance education are subject to an additional set of bureaucracy that can result in additional costs of $500,000 to $1 million for compliance.

All of these are examples of colleges and universities spending time and money on compliance with federal rules – and not on students. These examples, and others like them, represent sloppy, inefficient governing that wastes money, hurts students, discourages productivity and impedes research.

With bipartisan support and this groundbreaking report, I feel sure that our committee can send a Higher Education Act reauthorization bill to the Senate floor this year that will eliminate unnecessary red tape, save student’s money, and remove unnecessary regulatory obstacles to innovation in the best system of higher education in the world.

Alexander: Bipartisan Report on Higher Ed Regs Finds ‘Jungle of Red Tape’

Press release from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; February 24, 2015:

Study says Vanderbilt University spends $150 million, or 11 percent of its expenditures, annually, complying with federal rules and regulations

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate education committee, today said a report released by a task force of college and university leaders—and commissioned by a bipartisan group of senators—shows colleges in a jungle of red tape that “should be an embarrassment to all of us in the federal government.”

At a hearing on the report, Alexander said: “These should not be excused as normal, run-of-the mill problems of government. These examples, and others like them, are sloppy, inefficient governing that wastes money, hurts students, discourages productivity and impedes research.”

Alexander, along with Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), commissioned the report from the group in November 2013, seeking specific recommendations on reducing, eliminating or streamlining duplicative, costly or confusing regulations before the committee began work on a ninth reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Alexander said he would work with Ranking Member Murray (D-Wash.) to discuss how to develop a bipartisan process to take full advantage of the recommendations in this report and to include many of them in reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. The senators will also schedule additional hearings to gather comment on the report from institutions not directly involved with the report and consumers of higher education, including parents, students, and taxpayers.

Alexander added, “I have talked with Secretary Duncan more than once about this effort, and he is eager to do his part to solve the problem. I look forward to working with him and with the President on eliminating unnecessary red tape, saving students money, and removing unnecessary regulatory obstacles to innovation in the best system of higher education in the world.‎”

The full text of Alexander’s opening statement follows:

This morning we are holding our first hearing this Congress on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act which will focus on the final report from the Task Force on Government Regulation of Higher Education.

Over a year ago, Vanderbilt University hired the Boston Consulting Group to determine how much it costs the university to comply with federal rules and regulations.

The answer: $150 million, or 11 percent of the university’s total non-hospital expenditures last year.

Vanderbilt Chancellor Nick Zeppos says that this adds about $11,000 in additional tuition per year for each of the university’s 12,757 students.

Each year, 20 million American families fill out a complicated, 108-question form called the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to obtain a  grant or loan to help pay for college. Several experts testified before our committee that just two questions would tell the Department of Education 95 percent of what it needs to know to determine a student’s eligibility for a grant or loan: One, what is your family size? And, two, what is your family income?

So, in January a bipartisan group of six senators introduced legislation to simplify the student aid application and repayment process, including reducing the 108-question FAFSA form to just two questions. If our legislation becomes law, then families, guidance counselors, and admissions officers would save millions of hours.

Most important, according to financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz, the complicated, 108-question form discourages up to 2 million Americans each year from applying for aid. Last fall, the president of Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis told me that the complex form turns away from his campus 1,500 students each semester.

Tennessee has become the first state to make community college tuition-free for qualifying students. But first, each student must fill out the FAFSA. Now that tuition is free, the principal obstacle for a qualified Tennessee student to obtain two more years of education after high school is not money: it is this unnecessarily complicated federal form.

Ten years ago, then again three years ago, surveys by the National Academy of Sciences found that principal investigators spend 42 percent of their time associated with federal research projects on administrative tasks instead of research.

I asked the head of the National Academies what a reasonable percent of time would be for a researcher to spend on administrative tasks. He replied: perhaps 10 percent or even less.

How many billions could we save if we reduced the administrative burden?

Taxpayers spend more than $30 billion a year on research and development at colleges and universities.

This year, the average annual cost of NIH research project grant ‎is $480,000. If we reduce spending on unnecessary red tape by $1 billion, the NIH could potentially fund more than a thousand multi-year grants.

These should not be excused as normal, run-of-the-mill problems of government. These examples, and others like them, represent sloppy, inefficient governing that wastes money, hurts students, discourages productivity and impedes research.

Such waste should be an embarrassment to all of us in the federal government.

And let me make clear:  let’s not just blame President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. They have contributed to the problem, but so has every president and every education secretary—and that includes me—since 1965 when the first Higher Education Act was enacted.

And the list of those embarrassed should also include the Congress of the United States for year after year adding to and tolerating a pile of conflicting, confusing regulations.

The Higher Education Act totals nearly 1,000 pages; there are over 1,000 pages in the official Code of Federal Regulations devoted to higher education; and on average every workday the Department of Education issues one new sub-regulatory guidance directive or clarification.

No one has taken the time to “weed the garden.”

The result of this piling up of regulations is that one of the greatest obstacles to innovation and cost consciousness in higher education has become—us, the federal government.

So if all of us created this mess, then it is up to all of us to fix it.

That is why more than a year ago, four members of this committee—two Democrats and two Republicans—asked a group of distinguished educators to examine the current state of federal rules and regulations for colleges and universities. We asked them not just to tell us the problem, but to give us specific solutions.

They have done so in a remarkable document entitled “Recalibrating Regulation of Colleges and Universities,” in which they outline 59 specific regulations, requirements and areas for Congress and the Department of Education to consider —listing 10 especially problematic regulations.

I thank Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nick Zeppos and University System of Maryland Chancellor Brit Kirwan for leading the effort.

In their own words, America’s 6,000 colleges and universities live in a “jungle of red tape” that is expensive and confusing and unnecessary.

The report makes clear that colleges and taxpayers expect appropriate regulation. But neither taxpayers nor colleges are well-served by the jungle that exists today. Consumer information that is too complicated to understand is worthless.

Colleges must report the amount of foreign gifts they receive; disclose the number of fires drills that occurred on campus. “Gainful employment” disclosures require 30 different pieces of information for each academic program subject to the regulation.

When a student withdraws from college before a certain time period, a student’s federal money must be returned to the government. This is a simple concept.

Yet the regulations and guidance implementing this are ridiculously complex – 200 paragraphs of regulatory text accompanied by 200 pages in the Federal Student Aid handbook.

The University of Colorado reports that they have two full-time staff devoted to this issue. One to do the calculation and the other one to recheck the other’s work. Ohio State University estimates that it spends around $200,000 annually on compliance for this regulation.

Institutions offering distance education are subject to an additional set of bureaucracy that can result in additional costs of $500,000 to a million dollars for compliance.

All of these are examples of colleges and universities spending time and money on compliance with federal rules and not on students.

Senator Murray and I will discuss how to develop a bipartisan process to take full advantage of the recommendations in this report and to include many of them in reauthorization of the High Education Act, which we plan to do this year.

We will schedule additional hearings to gather comment on the report from institutions not directly involved with the report and consumers of higher education, including parents, students, and taxpayers.

Some of the recommendations require a change in the law.  Many can be fixed by the Department itself.

I have talked with Secretary Duncan more than once about this effort and he is eager to do his part to solve the problem. I look forward to working with him and with President Obama on eliminating unnecessary red tape, saving students money, and removing unnecessary regulatory obstacles to innovation in the best system of higher education in the world.

This is not a new subject for me. One of the first things I did as a Senator was try to simplify student aid and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). And I’m told the net result was the reduction of approximately 7 questions. Those have been replaced by many more now.

Although I voted against the final reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 2008, I authored a provision in the bill that required the Secretary of Education to publish a “compliance calendar” so schools can see all of their deadlines.

Unfortunately, 7 years later, the Department of Education has yet to implement this provision.

With bipartisan support and this groundbreaking report we have today, I’m counting on this effort to get farther than that one.

Haslam Pledges ‘Full Speed Ahead’ in 2015 State of the State

Press release from Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; February 9, 2015:

Governor’s budget proposal prioritizes K-12 and higher education, jobs  

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam tonight delivered his 2015 State of the State and Budget address before a joint session of the 109th General Assembly in the House Chamber.

During the speech, he promised to move “full speed ahead” in serving Tennessee taxpayers and highlighted many of the state’s successes.

“I stand here tonight to tell you that the state of our state is enviable in many ways,” Haslam said. “There are a lot of good things happening in Tennessee, and they’re being recognized in significant ways across the country.”

Haslam noted several of the state’s accomplishments, including:

  • Nearly 225,000 new private sector jobs have been created in Tennessee since 2011, and Tennessee holds the designation of “State of the Year” in economic development for an unprecedented second year in a row.
  • Tennessee leads the country in academic achievement gains and through the Tennessee Promise is the first state ever to promise high school graduates two years at a community or technical college free of tuition and fees.
  • This year, out of 65,000 high school seniors, 58,000 applied for the Tennessee Promise and 9,200 adult Tennesseans signed up to be volunteer mentors for these students.
  • Tennessee has the lowest debt per capita of any state and among the lowest tax rates.

Haslam also emphasized the importance of education in Tennessee – both K-12 and higher ed.

“I truly believe that getting education right is critical to the well-being of our state – today and in the future,” Haslam said. “We have to keep going full speed ahead.  We can’t afford to go backwards.  We’ve come too far to sell ourselves short. It would be an injustice to our students, to our teachers, to Tennessee families, and to ourselves.”

He underscored the state’s efforts to ensure a strong workforce through a focus on workforce development and his Drive to 55 initiative that aims to raise the percentage of Tennesseans with a certificate or degree beyond high school from 32 to 55 by the year 2025.  Part of that effort is the Tennessee Promise.

“For the last 30 years, Tennessee’s greatest need has been for better trained workers who can fill the jobs that companies want to bring here. We think the Tennessee Promise is a game changer.

“But the reality is that just reaching high school graduates won’t be enough to reach our goal,” he continued.  “In Tennessee, there are nearly one million adults with some post-secondary credit but without a degree. We have to figure out ways to reconnect those adults and remove the barriers that are preventing so many Tennesseans from earning their certificate or degree, which will lead to a better job and future.”

As part of the address, the governor outlined his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2015-2016 which reflects $300 million in revenue growth, $500 million in cost increases and $200 million in reductions.

“Every year we have a limited amount of new money that is available from our revenue growth,” Haslam said.  “That new money rarely keeps pace with our budget obligations and growing costs for education and health care.  That’s why it is so important that our state has built a track record of fiscal restraint.

“That’s why we have to try different approaches that will help us keep costs down while increasing quality and outcomes in health care.”

The governor’s budget proposal includes nearly $170 million for K-12 education, including:

  • $100 million dollars for increasing teacher salaries, which amounts to a four percent pool that local education associations (LEAs) will have available as they make local decisions to increase teacher pay;
  • Nearly $44 million to fully fund the Basic Education Program; and
  • $5 million to create the Educators’ Liability Trust Fund to offer liability insurance to Tennessee teachers at no cost to them.Notable higher education investments include:
  • $260 million for capital projects, including new science facilities at Jackson State Community College and the University of Tennessee, nearly $25 million for improvements to colleges of applied technology across the state and funding for a fine arts classroom building at East Tennessee State University;
  • $25 million to fully fund the Complete College Act formula; and
  • $10 million for need-based scholarships for students;

The budget also includes specific workforce development investments geared to the governor’s Drive to 55 effort including:

  • $2.5 million for statewide outreach efforts geared toward adult students, technical assistance to local communities that are finding ways to support adult learners, and a one-stop portal for adults;
  • $2.5 million to support the success of the SAILS (Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support) program which address remediation in high school;
  • $1.5 million to provide last dollar scholarships to adults with some post-secondary credit to attend community college;
  • $1 million to establish competitive grants to 2-year and 4-year institutions to develop initiatives specifically designed for veterans; and
  • $400,000 to establish the Tennessee Promise Bridge Program, which will bring first-generation college students to campus prior to fall enrollment, which is one more step in making sure they have the best chance possible to succeed.

Other highlights of the budget include:

  • $48 million for state employee pay raises and compensation tied to performance and ongoing market adjustments; and
  • $36.5 million dollars for the Rainy Day Fund to bring it to $528 million.

The governor’s legislative agenda will be announced Tuesday.

The complete text of the governor’s speech and an archived video of his speech will be available at www.tn.gov/stateofthestate.

***

Complete text of the governor’s speech follows:

Lieutenant Governor Ramsey, Speaker Harwell, Speaker Pro Tem Watson, Speaker Pro Tem Johnson, Members of the 109 th General Assembly, Justices, Constitutional Officers, Commissioners, friends, guests and fellow Tennesseans:

First, let me begin by assuring you that I don’t plan on making you listen to me give an address every week. There was the inauguration a couple of weeks ago, Insure Tennessee last Monday, and then tonight. I’m sure some of you are already tired of hearing me, so this will be the shortest State of the State speech yet.

Last week, the decision was made not to move forward with Insure Tennessee. However, that does not mean the issues around health care go away. Too many Tennesseans are still not getting health coverage they need in the right way, in the right place, at the right time. An emergency room is not the place where so many Tennesseans should be going for health care services. It’s not the best health care for them, and it’s costing us a lot more in the long run.

Health care costs are still eating up too much of our state’s budget and impacting the federal deficit and nation’s debt. According to the Congressional Budget Office, if we maintained health care costs at their current levels, which we know are inflated, for the next eight years – just kept them flat – we’d eliminate the nation’s deficit. To do that, we can’t keep doing what we have been doing.

So, though the special session has ended, I hope we can find a way to work together to address those problems.

As we transition from the special session to the regular session, I look forward to continuing to work together on the important issues that face our state and our citizens.

This evening, I am here to update you on how we’re doing as a state and to present our administration’s budget. You will see in the budget that we are continuing to invest in the things that we believe in and that Tennesseans care about: education, jobs and a customer-focused, efficient and effective state government.

I stand here tonight to tell you that the state of our state is enviable in many ways. There are a lot of good things happening in Tennessee, and they’re being recognized in significant ways across the country.

Nearly 225,000 new private sector jobs have been created in Tennessee in the last four years, and we hold the designation of “State of the Year” in economic development for an unprecedented second year in a row.

We lead the country in academic achievement gains, and we are the first state ever to promise that our high school seniors can attend two years at a community or technical college free of tuition and fees.

We have the lowest debt per capita of any state and among the lowest tax rates.

So, we have a lot of momentum to build on, and as I said several weeks ago at the inaugural, we’re not letting our foot off the gas.

The next four years also come with the reality that we will face the same budget challenges that we have faced in the past four years. Every year we have a limited amount of new money that is available from our revenue growth. That new money rarely keeps pace with our budget obligations and growing costs for education and health care. That’s why it is so important that our state has built a track record of fiscal restraint.

There are a lot of things that state government is responsible for and that we’re accomplishing that you may not know about. I still learn something new from our departments all of the time.

For example:

  • Our Department of Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities’ state service delivery system is the very first to be accredited in the nation.
  • In the Department of Children’s Services, the Child Abuse Hotline took 140,000 calls and 80 percent of those calls were answered within 20 seconds, which exceeds national standards.
  • In 2014, there were fewer accidental fire-related deaths in Tennessee than in any year in recorded history.
  • Last year, Tennessee had the second lowest number of traffic fatalities of the past 50 years.
  • Average wait times in our driver services centers have dropped from over 32 minutes in 2011 to under 24 minutes in 2014.
  • Tennessee State Parks had 35 million visits last year.
  • The Department of Veteran’s Affairs serves about 10 percent of our state, more than half a million veterans and their dependents each year.
  • We are all concerned about prescription drug abuse in our state, and from the work of our Public Safety Subcabinet and legislation you’ve passed, the amount of narcotic pain medication prescribed in Tennessee is down five percent. And, doctor shopping is down 42 percent from its peak in 2011.

All that work starts with a state government that is up to the task. That means a customerfocused government that recruits, retains and rewards the best and brightest employees to serve.

Three years ago, we worked with the General Assembly to overhaul our outdated employment system. Because of that, we are now able to recruit, hire and promote based on who is best for the job, not who has been in line the longest.

Two years ago, we put $60 million in the budget to raise state employee salaries to be more in line with the market place.

This year, we are including $48 million in the budget for employee pay raises and market adjustments. That amounts to a three percent pool, but unlike in years past, those won’t be across the board. Pay raises and compensation will be tied to employee performance in addition to ongoing market adjustments. We have worked hard to bring employee salaries up to be competitive with the private sector. After nearly two years of implementing performance evaluations, it makes sense to take the next step to move toward rewarding employees like the private sector does – on their performance and results, not just on seniority.

As we continue to prepare for a changing workforce, we are doing all we can to give our commissioners the tools and flexibility to meet the needs of their departments.

We are going to be asking a lot from our employees as we move full speed ahead. I am grateful for the dedication of employees all across the state, and I’m excited about the opportunity to better recognize and reward them for their work.

As we talk about state government’s workforce, we are also making certain that Tennesseans are prepared for the workforce challenges of today’s global market economy.

There has been a lot of talk in this country about the income gap – about our shrinking middle class – and it’s no secret that Republicans and Democrats have some different views about the best ways to address that. But there is a truth that we all know and that we can all agree on.

The best answer of all involves creating opportunity for more people to be prepared for the jobs of the future.

If you take a two-earner high school educated couple and they both obtain college degrees, their income rises on average $58,000 per year.

Unfortunately, in our country, the escalator has stopped. In ranking the world’s countries by the percentage of the population with a degree, the United States ranked second in 2000. Today, we are fifth, and most disturbingly, we ranked 12th among the 25 to 34-year-old age group.

More Americans, almost 30 percent, have less education than their parents, than the 20 percent who have more education than their parents.

In Tennessee, we are doing something about that. Two years ago, we announced our Drive to 55 to raise the percentage of Tennesseans with a certificate or degree beyond high school up from 32 percent to 55 percent by the year 2025.

Last year, we introduced the Tennessee Promise – the very first state in the country to guarantee high school graduates two years of free community college or technical school.

This year, of our 65,000 high school seniors, 58,000 of them applied for the Tennessee Promise. Equally notable, 9,200 adult Tennesseans signed up to be volunteer mentors for those students. For the last 30 years, Tennessee’s greatest need has been for better trained workers who can fill the jobs that companies want to bring here. We think the Tennessee Promise is a game changer.

We know that access is important, but even more important is success. Not only do we need to get those students into school, they need to finish. That’s why the mentor piece of the Tennessee Promise is so important.

But we’re also going to include $400,000 in this year’s budget to establish the Tennessee Promise Bridge Program. It’s a pilot program to bring first-generation students to campus prior to fall enrollment. When nobody in your family has ever gone to college before, being there can be intimidating. This is one more step to make sure these students have the best chance possible to succeed.

It is also why our SAILS program is so important. SAILS gives students who need extra support in math that attention during their senior year in high school so they can avoid remediation when they enter college. We piloted the program two years ago, and the results speak for themselves.

Last year, 8,100 students were served by the SAILS program, and almost 70 percent of those students completed all remediation while still in high school. That saved families nearly $6.5 million in tuition.

This year we are including $2.5 million to sustain the success of the SAILS program.

But the reality is that just reaching high school graduates won’t be enough to reach our goal. In Tennessee, there are nearly one million adults with some post-secondary credit but without a degree. We have to figure out ways to reconnect those adults and remove the barriers that are preventing them from earning their certificate or degree, which will lead to a better job and future.

We are including $1.5 million dollars in this year’s budget for a pilot program – modeled after the Tennessee Promise – to provide last dollar scholarships to adults with some post-secondary credit to attend community college.

Also, beginning this fall, any Tennessee adult will be able to attend a Tennessee College of Applied Technology absolutely free.

The budget also includes nearly $2.5 million for statewide outreach efforts geared toward adult students, technical assistance to local communities that are finding ways to support adult learners, and a one stop portal for adults.

One group of adults that has shown a lot of enthusiasm on college campuses is our veterans. From 2008 to 2013, we saw an increase of nearly 200 percent of veterans enrolling in our colleges and universities. Our Veterans Education Task Force has been working to address the unique needs that our service men and women have when they come home and go back to school. Based on their report, the budget includes $1 million to set up competitive grants to 2-year and 4-year schools to develop initiatives specifically designed for veterans to be successful in earning a degree or certificate.

As we drive more students to our community colleges, technical colleges and universities, we are expecting more from our schools than we ever have before.

We are asking them to move full speed ahead too. We want to make sure they’re keeping expenses low and working to control tuition costs. We’re asking them to make sure they’re providing the right instruction and classes that lead to real jobs.

We know that we have a role to play in this process too. We’ve made education, both K-12 and higher ed, top priorities – both from a policy standpoint and through our budgets. This year is no exception.

In response to our schools’ new focus on success and completion, we will be investing $25 million to fully fund the Complete College Act formula.

The budget will also include $10 million to fund more need-based scholarships for students.

We’ve budgeted more than $260 million for higher ed capital. That funds new science facilities at Jackson State Community College and the University of Tennessee. It also includes nearly $25 million for improvements to our colleges of applied technology all across the state, and it includes the funds to complete the long awaited fine arts building at East Tennessee State University.

The reason we continue to make these investments in education is we want Tennesseans to have the education, training and skills necessary to have a good paying, high-quality job.

And we’re having a lot of success in attracting those jobs to Tennessee. Tennessee has become known around the world as a leading automobile manufacturing state. That’s good news because those are good jobs that bring a lot of other good jobs with them through the supplier network.

In the past, while companies might have trusted us to build their automobiles, they typically put their research and development efforts elsewhere. Today that’s changing, and more and more research and development jobs connected to manufacturing are coming to Tennessee. We want to be known as a state where employers can find the job skills that they need no matter what the skill level of the job might be.

If we are going to achieve the goals of the Drive to 55, then Tennesseans must first have a strong foundation through what they learn in elementary, middle and high school.

I truly believe that getting education right is critical to the well-being of our state – today and in the future. We have to keep going full speed ahead. We can’t afford to go backwards.

We’ve come too far to sell ourselves short. It would be an injustice to our students, to our teachers, to Tennessee families, and to ourselves.

There has been a lot of discussion about education, here and in schools and communities across the state. Most of the discussions have been around three things: state standards – what we will expect every student to know at every step along the way in his or her education journey; student assessments – how we will measure what students have learned through the year; and teacher evaluations.

Let’s start with standards. Standards are the foundational skills that students should know at different grade levels. For example, one of the kindergarten reading standards is to “demonstrate understanding of spoken words, syllables, and sounds,” which includes recognizing and producing rhyming words and counting, pronouncing, blending and segmenting syllables in spoken words.

We typically review education standards – like that one – every six years, but because of the ongoing conversation on a state and national level, we thought it was appropriate to take a fresh look at them now, after four years. It is important for us to realize that there are more than 1,100 standards for English language arts and more than 900 for math.

Back in November, we launched a website where Tennesseans can go to review and make comments on our existing state standards. This spring, the Southern Regional Education Board, an independent, third party organization, will collect the input from the website, which will then be reviewed and analyzed by six advisory teams divided up by subject matter and made up of Tennessee educators. Those teams will then make recommendations to two expert committees of educators, which will then propose changes to the State Board of Education.

If you haven’t visited the website, I encourage you to do so. So far, nearly 82,000 comments have been submitted. I expect that we’re going to talk about state standards this session, and I think it is important that we know exactly what the standards are that we’re talking about and possibly voting on.

To me, it doesn’t really matter what we call our standards. What does matter is that we have the highest standards possible. What does matter is that we continue to have high expectations for our students, teachers and this state. We can come up with Tennessee standards that allow our students to compete with anyone in the world.

Over the past four years, I’ve met with thousands of educators to get feedback on what’s going well in our schools and classrooms and what’s not. One thing I hear a lot is frustration about the feeling that their profession is treated like a political football. We have to give our educators more stability and certainty in their classrooms and not change the game on them session after session.

We’ve proposed legislation that specifically addresses many of the concerns I’ve been hearing from teachers including the alignment of what they’re teaching with our year-end assessment and having the Department of Education provide more information about the annual tests so they can better prepare their students every year. We are also proposing to make reasonable changes to teacher evaluations, and we’re focusing on overall improved communication and collaboration with educators.

We are asking more of our teachers and their students than ever before. And guess what? Teachers and students are rising up to the challenge.

By now, almost everyone knows that Tennessee is making impressive gains in academic achievement. I expect there will be a lot of discussion about education this session, and there should be. You’ve heard me say it before, but it bears repeating: There is nothing more important to our state than getting education right. That’s why in this year’s budget, we are proposing nearly $170 million more for K-12 education.

The budget includes nearly $44 million to account for growth in the Basic Education Program. While other states are cutting K-12 education, Tennessee continues to be one of the few states in the country to make significant investments. In fact, our state spending on K-12 education over the past four years increased at a rate more than double the national average.

We know that a big part of success is to have a great teacher leading every classroom. Just like with state employees, we want to recruit, retain and reward the best and brightest educators. A big piece of doing that is paying good teachers well. One of our goals in Tennessee is to not only be the fastest improving state in academic achievement gains but to also be the fastest improving state in teacher compensation. Tonight, I am pleased to announce that the budget includes $100 million for increasing teacher salaries. That amounts to a four percent pool that local education associations will have available as they make decisions on increasing teacher pay.

We are also including $5 million in the budget to create the Educators’ Liability Trust Fund to offer liability insurance to our teachers at no cost.

We will continue doing all we can to work with educators and support them as professionals who are shaping the future of our children and our state.

In this year’s budget, we have $300 million in new revenue to work with and $500 million in cost increases, primarily for education and health care increases. That’s why we have to try different approaches that will help us keep costs down while increasing quality and outcomes in health care.

Obviously, those increases have necessitated $200 million in cost reductions in other places. The cost reductions that we make are painful and involve hard choices but without making those hard choices in the budget, we simply could not keep producing a balanced budget every year. Since we’ve been in office, we have redirected more than $450 million so that we can keep funding our state’s needs while we are balancing our budget.

The reality is that’s not going to change. We are going to have to continue to look for ways to cut costs and reallocate resources. One of the things that we like the best about Tennessee is our low tax structure, but that also means that we have limited revenues to fund the programs and services that Tennessee taxpayers rely on.

That’s why we’ve worked to better manage our real estate and office space that results in real savings. That’s why we’re taking the next step to reduce energy costs and consumption across  our departments through our Empower Tennessee program. That’s why we work to maintain the low debt that we have as a state. By the way, continuing to pay off our debt this year means that we’ll spend $13 million less this year on interest than we did last year.

And, we’re going to make certain that we’re prepared for the future by continuing to strengthen our Rainy Day Fund. This year we will add $36.5 million to bring the total to $528 million.

After presenting our budget last year, there was a sharp decline in revenue collections, and we weren’t able to do some of the things we initially proposed in the budget.

Most of the drop was in our business tax collections. We’ve spent a lot of time working internally and with outside experts to analyze what happened.

Some of it is a result of the natural volatility of business taxes in general. Some of it was due to over collections in which reimbursements weren’t accounted for in the budgeting process. And some of it is that companies outside of Tennessee, but that do business in Tennessee, aren’t always required to pay the same taxes that our in state and homegrown companies do.

Through the analysis, we found that Tennessee has fallen behind other states in protecting our in state businesses from unfair competition from out of state companies.

To remedy that, we will file the Revenue Modernization Act, which aims to level the playing field in terms of sales tax and business taxes.

The bill also capitalizes on trends that we’re seeing in product distribution by creating an incentive for companies to use Tennessee’s distribution industry, which maximizes our state’s strengths.

We are committed to Tennessee remaining a low tax state. This proposal simply brings us in line to better compete with other states and to not put our in state businesses at a disadvantage, which we are doing today.

I understand, for all of us, there is a lot of work, demand and pressure that comes with being an elected official, but there is also something really special about serving our fellow Tennesseans.

As I look back on the past four years, it is pretty incredible all that we have gotten done in working together. In looking back, I also see how fast time goes by. That’s why we’re not letting up on the throttle these next four years. We have to go full speed ahead because there is still a lot of work to do.

After the Insure Tennessee vote last week, there has been a lot of speculation about what happened. Some people have asked me if it was a waste of time and if I regret bringing the proposal. The answer is no to both.

To me the work we do here shouldn’t just be about winning or losing. That’s what’s wrong with Washington. Every issue is cast in terms of political wins and losses. It should be about getting to the right answer, serving the people of Tennessee, and doing our part to make lives better.

Last week, I talked about coming here not just to make a point but to make a difference. It’s about looking for answers not just having an agenda. With great power comes great responsibility.

I was in Washington weekend before last for a series of dinners and events. There were a lot of people who are currently in power and more than a few who used to be in power and have moved off of the stage. Some of those who are no longer on the stage wished mightily that they could be back on it. Others were content to have played their role at their particular time. Regardless, it reminded me that we all have a shelf life. At some point, it will be our turn to move off of this stage and to move on from here. When that time comes, let’s be able to look back knowing that while we had the high privilege of serving here, we did everything we could to make Tennessee an even better place to live, work, and raise a family.

Until that time comes, let’s keep moving full speed ahead.

Haslam Names 13 New Members to Higher Ed Boards, Reappoints 2

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; September 11, 2014:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the appointments of thirteen new members and two re-appointments to Tennessee’s higher education boards.

Bill Lee, Pam Martin and Alex Martin will serve as new members of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC). Shannon Brown, Bill Evans, Julia Wells, Rhedona Rose, R.J. Duncan and David Golden will serve as new members of the University of Tennessee (UT) Board of Trustees. Barbara Prescott, Leigh Shockey, Rebecca Reeves and Dottye Webb will serve as new members of the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR).

“We want to thank the new and current members for serving and the important work they do for higher education in Tennessee,” Haslam said. “There is no doubt that attracting and growing Tennessee jobs is directly tied to education, and these new appointees’ bring a variety of experiences and backgrounds that will help us in this effort.”

Lee is CEO of Lee Company, a comprehensive facilities solutions and home services company with over 800 employees. He is a member of the Downtown Rotary Club of Nashville, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Board of Directors for the Nashville Business Coalition. He is also the chairman of YMCA of Middle Tennessee and past president of the Associated Builders and Contractors. Lee lives in Franklin and will represent the Seventh Congressional District on THEC.

Pam Martin is the president of Cushion Employer Services and is the chairwoman of the Minority Business Advisory Council in Nashville. She was previously the vice president of community development for SunTrust Bank. She has also served as vice chair of the Conventions and Visitors Bureau on the Nashville Chamber of Commerce Board of Governors, chairwoman of Nashville’s Tourism and Conventions Commission, and as an executive board member of the United Way of Nashville and the Nashville Chamber of Commerce. The Nashville native will represent the Sixth Congressional District on THEC.

Alex Martin is a sophomore at Tennessee Tech University. He is a senator in the Student Government Association and a representative on the Inter-fraternity Council, and he serves on the Ad Hoc University Admissions Standards Committee. The Portland-native will serve as a student representative on THEC.

Brown is the senior vice president/chief human resources and diversity officer for FedEx Express, the world’s largest express transportation company. He serves on the boards of the March of Dimes and the Lausanne Collegiate School. Brown is chairman of the board for United Way of the Mid-South, and he is a member of the central board of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis. Brown lives in Memphis and will represent Shelby County on the UT Board of Trustees.

Evans is a member of the faculty at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. He joined St. Jude as a student in 1972 and most recently served as president and CEO from 2004-2014. He served on the board of Memphis Tomorrow until July 2014, and he currently is a member of the board of Launch Tennessee and the U.S. Board of Pharmacy Specialists. Evans lives in Memphis and will represent Shelby County on the UT Board of Trustees.

Rose is the executive vice president of the Tennessee Farm Bureau, where she has worked for 28 years. She is a past state president of the Tennessee Future Farmers of America (FFA) Alumni Association and holds the Honorary American FFA degree. She is a board member of the Maury Alliance and the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Rose resides in Columbia and will represent the Fourth Congressional District of the UT Board of Trustees.

Wells is vice president of marketing services at the Pictsweet Company. She serves as state finance chairwoman and Volunteer Girls State chairwoman of the American Legion Auxiliary. She is a National Frozen Food Hall of Fame inductee and serves on the board of directors for the American Frozen Food Institute Foundation and Christ Community Church. She has previously been a member of the University of Tennessee, Martin Development Council. Wells resides in Jackson and will represent the Eighth Congressional District on the UT Board of Trustees.

Duncan is a junior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville where he is a member of the Student Government Association. He has been involved with community service through the Boys and Girls Club and through Boy Scouts of America, where he earned the rank of Eagle Scout. The Nolensville native will represent students from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville on the UT Board of Trustees.

Golden is a professor of food microbiology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and the current chairman of the Faculty Senate. In 2013 he received the Alumni Outstanding Teacher Award from the University of Tennessee Alumni Association. He has served on the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods. Golden lives in Knoxville and will represent UT faculty on the UT Board of Trustees.

Prescott is the executive director of PeopleFirst Partnership, the education and talent arm of Memphis Fast Forward. Prior to taking the position with PeopleFirst, she served as vice president of Allie Prescott & Partners, LLC. She is a licensed professional counselor and operated a private counseling practice for more than 30 years. She is a former member of the Memphis City School Board where she served twice as president and vice president. She also sat on the board of directors of the Tennessee School Boards Association. She presently serves on the boards for New Leaders New Schools, the Salvation Army, and the Salvation Army’s Joan and Ray Kroc Community Center. Prescott resides in Memphis and will represent the Eighth Congressional District on the Tennessee Board of Regents.

Shockey is CEO and chairman of Drexel Chemical Company, serving in that role since 1998 after starting with the company in 1980. She is also the co-founder of Veritable Music. She serves as chairwoman of the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce and the Tennessee District Export Council, and she is the regional legislative coordinator for the Southeast region of the National District Export Council. She is a member of the National Association of Women Business Owners, Leadership Memphis, and the Moss Society of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Shockey resides in Rossville and will represent West Tennessee on the Tennessee Board of Regents.

Reeves is a junior at the University of Memphis, Lambuth. She received her associate’s degree in psychology at Dyersburg State Community College, and while attending Dyersburg State she served as the Student Government Association president, secretary for the Tennessee Board of Regents Student President’s Council and vice president of fellowship for Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. Reeves resides in Friendship and will represent students on the Tennessee Board of Regents.

Webb has worked at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology, Newbern since 1998, and she currently is the test center manager and technology foundations master. She also serves as the Local Skills Chapter advisor and student government advisor, and was named the 2013 Tennessee Postsecondary SkillsUSA Advisor of the Year. Webb resides in Milan and will represent faculty on the Tennessee Board of Regents.

Haslam also reappointed John Foy and D. Crawford Gallimore to the UT Board of Trustees.

Haslam Plan For Community College Prompts Questions

A plan by Gov. Bill Haslam to pay for two years of community college for Tennessee students has been met with questions over its potential costs and criticism that it erodes a successful scholarship program.

Haslam proposes to pay for the program, called Tennessee Promise, by setting up a $300 million endowment with lottery funds and reducing the amount freshmen and sophomores receive from the HOPE scholarship, from $4,000, to $3,000, while increasing the amount to $5,000 in the final two years of college.

In unveiling the program during his State of the State address, Haslam described it as “a bold promise” and said it would be the only such state program in the country.

“We are committed to making a clear statement to families that education beyond high school is a priority in the state of Tennessee,” Haslam said.

This year, in-state tuition and fees at UT Knoxville total $11,200 per year, not including housing. That’s about a fifth of the median family income in Tennessee, $54,700.

Under Haslam’s proposal, a student could enroll for two years at a community college courtesy of state taxpayers, then transfer and finish up a bachelor’s degree at a four-year school. The idea would be to make a four-year education less costly while giving students the same piece of paper from the same school.

The bill, filed last week, calls for proceeds above $10 million in the lottery fund to be transferred to a new endowment, with the earnings used to pay for the program. Presumably, the endowment could not be raided to pay for other lawmaker wish lists, but the Legislature would do well to make sure the purpose of any new fund is locked down tight.

A lawmaker who helped craft the state’s lottery scholarships has come out against the plan. Congressman Steve Cohen told the Tennessean that “high-achieving students beginning four-year degree programs” will end up with less money.

Questions remain, though. A recent WPLN story explored whether the funding mechanism is sound. Budget crunchers will have to predict the future costs of the program, the potential demand by parents and students, as well as the estimated savings from restructuring the lottery scholarship.

It’s also not known what effect a new incentive to head to community college would have on the costs at four-year schools in the state. With fewer freshmen and sophomores in lecture halls, would schools respond by trying to raise their fees faster than they would have otherwise?

The Chattanooga Times Free Press pointed out out that the lottery program itself ended up paying for less of the total cost of attending school over time:

At its peak, the maximum HOPE award covered about three-quarters of the average price of tuition and fees at public universities and community colleges in 2006-07. In 2012-13, the maximum HOPE award barely covered half of the average cost, according to a 2013 Tennessee Higher Education Commission report.

Haslam’s bill would incentivize scholarship students at the state’s four-year schools to finish on time.

Current law allows students to receive a HOPE scholarship until earning a bachelor’s degree or earning the number of semester hours for the degree — with funding also cut off five years after enrollment. The Haslam bill would cut off lottery scholarship funds at either 120 semester hours (15 hours per semester for four years) or completion of eight full-time semesters, whichever comes later. The bill would keep in place the five-year cutoff.

The Promise program follows other efforts by the Haslam administration to expand access to higher education, including a nonprofit, online college aimed at working adults and priced at $2,890 per full-time, six-month term.

Student Demand for Online Courses in TN Rising: Report

The number of UT Knoxville students taking distance or online classes has nearly tripled since the 2001 school year, a new report from the state’s Offices of Education Research and Accountability says.

The number went from 514 students in 2001 to 1,413 students in 2013 and is in line with significant growth nationally in interest in flexible, online ways to learn and get a degree. The report on online learning comes at a time when soaring student loan debt has captured the attention of politicians and the public — a problem BusinessWeek says may represent “the next big threat to the economy.”

The report doesn’t suggest the final word on that, but does track the early steps in an experiment undertaken by Tennessee and other states at affordable, online learning. Last year, state lawmakers put $5 million toward the establishment of a nonprofit, online school for Tennesseans who wanted to complete their degree. Students (who tend to be 25 or older) at this accredited online university pay about half what students at UT’s flagship campus in Knoxville pay in tuition:

“(Western Governor’s University) Tennessee’s tuition will average approximately $2,890 per each six-month term for full-time enrollment of at least 12 competency hours. By comparison, tuition and fees for undergraduate students at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville will total $5,597 per semester for full-time enrollment in 2013-14; tuition and fees for MTSU will be $3,920.34.”

A degree from WGU Tennessee can cost less as the student takes on more work, since pricing is set per term instead of per credit hour. Once a student establishes competency in a subject area, he can move on to the next class in the academic progression right away. That built-in financial incentive to finish efficiently should put college within reach of more working Tennesseans who want to stay out of debt. Online learning experiments are happening on Tennessee’s traditional physical college campuses, too.

The report documents the work to develop online courses through a collaborative of Tennessee’s public universities and technology center. In the high-growth field of nursing, the introduction of online coursework has provided students with more certainty that they can access the courses they need, even if a human at their campus is not available to teach the material that semester.

The report leaves open the question of whether students actually learn as well or better online, a question that the backers of MOOCs, or massive online open courses, are also struggling to answer. Also still to be measured is any cost savings estimate the state should expect from moving more coursework to the Web. Online courses cost more to put together on the front end than traditional, in-person courses, the report says, citing a study of the University of North Carolina’s online courses.

But if the UT Knoxville numbers are any indication, the demand for them is very real and likely to grow.

As to performance of students who participate in online learning, the report indicated that mixing remote coursework with in-the-classroom experiences may actually improve education outcomes over those who stick with classroom-only experiences. The OREA study  noted that the U.S. Department of Education has published research findings that suggest “students in online conditions perform moderately better, on average, than those learning the same material through traditional face-to-face instruction.” Those conclusions, however, are disputed by some.

Last summer, Gov. Bill Haslam signed a memorandum of understanding that launched Wester Governors University in Tennessee as part of his “Drive to 55” effort to enroll more Tennesseans in higher learning curriculums.

Haslam: Improving Higher Ed Access a 2014 Priority

Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday that while he hasn’t finalized the particulars of his legislative agenda for 2014, higher education will clearly be a focus.

Haslam spent Tuesday in Murfreesboro talking up his administration’s efforts to encourage more Tennesseans to pursue an education beyond high school, emphasizing the importance of “higher ed” to economic development for the state.

“Government has a real role. One of the roles is to prepare the workers for the workforce,” Haslam told reporters after his announcement of an equipment grant of $625,007 to the Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Murfreesboro.

The grant is a portion of the $16.5 million in equipment and technology grants approved by the General Assembly last session for “workforce development programs” at Tennessee higher education institutions, a part of the governor’s “Drive to 55” initiative to “increase the number of Tennesseans with post-secondary credentials,” according to a press release.

Haslam said he views these grants as a “great investment” for the state that “will mean even more jobs coming to Tennessee in the future.”

Although the general unemployment in the state is still fairly high, the governor said “we have an impending shortage of skilled laborers in Middle Tennessee.”

In order to address that, and entice more businesses to relocate to the state, Haslam said that one of his administration’s top legislative priorities in the upcoming session will be improving access to higher education. “I think you’ll see a real focus on higher ed; both making certain that we have the job preparation programs, as well as we have to have a way that we can encourage more Tennesseans to attend school after high school, and so I think you’ll see some things around making that more affordable as well,” Haslam said after the grant announcement.

The governor also touted the importance of an increased number of degree-holding Tennesseans as necessary to continue job creation and economic development across the state at a luncheon event with the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce later that day.

The governor went down the list of programs enacted and laws passed in the name of enhancing the state’s economic status, and praised efforts to improve education – both K-12 and post-secondary – along with recently passed tax cuts, workers comp and civil service reform and his administration’s push for more exports.

Although the state’s business climate is one generally approved of by companies looking to relocate, a common complaint has been that Tennessee lacks in workforce development and has consistently ranked somewhere in the “40s” in education nationwide, Haslam said.

But the state has been working to improve that statistic, and with the release of the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress scores last month showing Tennessee as the “fastest growing state in the country,” it appears that the educational improvement efforts have been paying off, the governor said at the luncheon.

“It’s a really big deal when the commissioner of education in New York says, ‘If we work really hard we can be like Tennessee,’” Haslam said. “That’s a big deal, and that hasn’t been said a lot.”

Haslam Awards TCAT-Murfreesboro $625K Equipment Grant

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; December 3, 2013:

MURFREESBORO – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced a grant of $625,007 to fund equipment needed at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Murfreesboro.

The governor proposed and the General Assembly approved $16.5 million in this year’s budget for equipment and technology related to workforce development programs at Tennessee colleges of applied technology and community colleges, part of Haslam’s “Drive to 55” effort to increase the number of Tennesseans with post-secondary credentials.

“The purchase of this equipment for TCAT-Murfreesboro will allow the school to provide high-tech training to meet workforce needs in the Murfreesboro area,” Haslam said. “This will not only help train Tennesseans for skilled jobs but minimize the necessity for area employers to seek skilled workers from out of state.”

The grant for TCAT-Murfreesboro at the school’s Old Fort Campus will address needs for equipment for instruction in mechanical systems, electronics, industrial motor controls, hydraulics, pneumatics and wiring. The school will be able to purchase several pieces of high-tech training equipment.

The purchase will help align the school’s advanced manufacturing training programs with area industry. Graduation from the industrial maintenance program as well as the machine tool and HVAC programs prepare students for the workforce and provide up to 30 credit hours to transfer to a community college toward an Applied Associate Degree in General Technology.

“Currently only 32 percent of Tennesseans have certificates or degrees beyond high school, and studies show that by 2025, that number must be 55 percent to meet workforce demands,” Haslam said. “These workforce development grants help us directly meet workforce training needs.”

These strategic investments resulted from the governor meeting with businesses and education officials across the state last fall to better understand workforce development needs. One of the most common themes Haslam heard was the lack of capacity and equipment at Tennessee colleges of applied technology and community colleges to meet job demand, so these grants are aimed at addressing those gaps.

TN Veterans Education Task Force Announced by Haslam

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs; November 14, 2013:

NASHVILLE – Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the formation of a task force to evaluate how to best serve Tennessee’s veterans seeking a certificate or degree beyond high school.

The task force is charged with the following:

  • To identify common educational hurdles for transitioning veterans;
  • To research best practices to serve student veterans;
  • And to make recommendations on improving opportunities for veterans to earn a certificate or degree beyond high school.

“When the men and women who have served our country come home, we want them to be able to get a high quality, good paying job,” Haslam said. “Earning a certificate or degree beyond high school is an important part of that process.

“Over the last several years, enrollment of veterans in Tennessee colleges and universities has more than doubled,” Haslam continued. “While cost is often a barrier for many students to post-secondary education, that isn’t usually the case for veterans due to federal grants and other scholarship support. We need to be better understand what unique obstacles veterans face in completing their education, and work with them to overcome those obstacles and graduate.”

Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder will chair the task force, and other members include:

  • Dr. Mary Lou Apple, president, Motlow State Community College
  • Randy Boyd, special advisor to the governor for Higher Education
  • Brian Gard, director of emergency management, University of Tennessee
  • Sen. Dolores Gresham, chairman, Senate Education Committee
  • Sean Martin, student representative, Middle Tennessee State University
  • Rep. Gerald McCormick, majority leader, Tennessee House of Representatives
  • Linda Mullins, VA education counselor, Belmont University
  • Dr. Rich Rhoda, THEC Executive Director
  • Dr. M. David Rudd, provost, University of Memphis

The task force is part of the governor’s “Drive to 55” initiative to raise the number of Tennesseans with a certificate or degree beyond high school from where it stands today at 32 percent to 55 percent by the year 2025.

The committee will engage a variety of stakeholders including higher education leaders, veterans, advocacy groups, and will present recommendations to the governor in June 2014.

Haslam Amps Up ‘Drive to 55’ Initiative to Improve TN Higher Ed Numbers

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; September 4, 2013:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today convened key stakeholders including members of the General Assembly and leaders from Tennessee’s four-year colleges and universities, community colleges, colleges of applied technology, chambers of commerce, the business community, and the state board of education to discuss the challenges Tennessee faces in building a strong workforce for today and in the future.

“We want Tennesseans working in Tennessee jobs. We want Tennesseans to have an opportunity to get a good job and for those in the workplace to be able to advance and get an even better job,” Haslam said. “Currently in Tennessee, only 32 percent of us have a certificate or degree beyond high school, and studies show that by the year 2025 that number needs to be at least 55 percent for us to keep up with job demand. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

The governor outlined Tennessee’s current situation including:

  • Nearly 70 percent of Tennessee students entering community college need remedial classes before they can take college level courses;
  • More than 20,000 Tennessee high school graduates choose not to continue their education each year.
  • There are approximately 940,000 adult Tennesseans who have some college credit but haven’t earned an associate or four-year degree.
  • On the state’s current path, Tennessee is projected to reach 39 percent of citizens with a certificate or degree beyond high school by the year 2025. To reach 55 percent would be 494,000 more people.

Two national experts participated in the event, held at the Music City Center in Nashville, to give global perspectives on workforce trends, the importance of workforce readiness, and innovations in post-secondary education.

Jeff Strohl, the director of research at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, leads a team that researches how education impacts the workforce and focuses on how to quantify skills and better understand competencies in the context of an evolving workplace.

Anant Agarwal serves as president of edX, a worldwide, online learning initiative of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University. He is also a professor in MIT’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department.

The governor’s special advisor for Higher Education, Randy Boyd, also gave an update on the progress made to date on the “Drive to 55” initiative including:

  • $16.5 million in this year’s budget for equipment and technology related to workforce development programs at Tennessee colleges of applied technology and community colleges, which institutions will begin receiving in the coming weeks.
  • Launch of WGU Tennessee – an online, competency-based university aimed at the 940,000 adult Tennesseans that have some college credit but didn’t graduate with an associate or four-year degree.
  • Newly created endowment of $47 million using operational reserve funds from the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC) to provide nearly $2 million each year to support scholarships for “last dollar” scholarship programs such as tnAchieves. These scholarships fill the gaps between students’ financial aid and the real costs of college including books, supplies, room and board.
  • Launching the SAILS program, Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support, to give students who need extra support in math attention during their senior year in high school so they can avoid remediation when they enter college.
  • Legislation sponsored by Majority Leaders Mark Norris and Gerald McCormick to create the Labor Education Alignment Program – or LEAP – to better coordinate key stakeholders on the state and local level to address workforce readiness.
  • And new online learning innovations in Tennessee through partnerships with edX and Coursera.

Haslam appointed Boyd to the position in January, and he has consulted with a formal working group made up of the governor, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR), and president of the University of Tennessee. Although Boyd’s position is full-time, he is working for the state on a voluntary, unpaid basis.

The governor will be traveling the state in the coming weeks making the case for a stronger emphasis on workforce readiness in Tennessee – equipping more Tennesseans with the skills and training they need beyond high school for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

For more information on the ‘Drive to 55’ initiative, visit www.driveto55.org.