AT&T put another exclamation point on the state’s overall education reform agenda Wednesday, plunging $130,000 into scholarships for Tennessee community colleges.
The company announced that $10,000 will go to each of the state’s 13 community colleges. AT&T’s Tennessee president said it’s all tied to the education reform agenda that, in turn, is tied to workforce development in the state.
AT&T and state officials held a press conference for the announcement at Nashville State Community College.
“We recognize the critical role community colleges play here with higher education in Tennessee,” Gregg Morton, president of AT&T Tennessee, said.
“Often the community colleges don’t get the credit they deserve. If you look at the track record in terms of degrees they’re already generating, it’s a very successful track record.”
Both Morton and John Morgan, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, said the steps taken from the state’s Complete College Act, which will streamline taking credits from two-year schools onto four-year schools, is a significant development in education reform.
Morgan said the quality of the community colleges was good before such changes were made.
“But Tennessee, for whatever reason, tended to under-utilize our community colleges compared to most other states, particularly those states that are successful in providing high levels of education attainment,” he said.
“What this completion agenda does is it really erases, once and for all, that perception or that stigma that somehow community colleges ‘are not as good as,’ because credits earned at this school (Nashville State) will transfer to any other school in the state, and that’s a big deal.”
The scholarships will be designated for students in what are known as “accelerated pathways,” which are designed to move students through the higher education system without a lot of confusion.
Under the accelerated pathways program, instead of having multiple courses over several months, where a student might have one course on a Tuesday morning and another on a Wednesday afternoon and meander through the system, the student can now move along more expeditiously.
“What this accelerated pathway does is create a block schedule, so we’re telling students if you will come to us from 8:30 to 2 o’clock every day, over a period of time we will give you what you need to complete your degree,” Morgan said.
“You don’t have to go through the course-shopping, the course-selection process, you don’t have to worry about whether or not that section will be available when you need it We will structure that program for you.”
Morgan said the block schedule allows students to plan the rest of their lifestyles, like carrying jobs, around that class schedule.
The system also places students with cohorts, where they can move along together. The scholarships are designed to target non-traditional and under-served students.
Morton said the state currently has the proper focus on students.
“The initiatives underway here, I think, make Tennessee unique in many respects,” Morton said. “We’ve been able to get beyond a lot of the partisan bickering you see certainly in Washington and other states to focus on what’s important for our students here in Tennessee.
“It’s an exciting time, and it’s important for the business community to be involved in this initiative in partnership with both higher education and K-12 education because these students are looking for a job. It’s all about jobs, jobs, jobs. We’re all kind of inter-related here.”