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Governor Selling Free College to High School Seniors

With summer winding down and school kicking off, Gov. Bill Haslam is on a statewide tour promoting the benefits of higher education to seniors who’ll graduate high school this year.

This week Haslam is traveling the Volunteer State  pitching his “Tennessee Promise,” a new program offering two years of community college or technical school free to any student interested. The governor says the initiative, which the state Legislature overwhelmingly OK’d last spring, is unique to Tennessee.

“Every Tennessean, if you graduate from high school, we will ensure that you can go to community college for two years — or to technology school — absolutely free of tuition and fees,” Haslam told a gymnasium packed with students at Red Bank High School near Chattanooga Tuesday.

This year’s deadline for sign-up is Nov. 1, Haslam said. The governor told reporters after the event that he’s still running into high school seniors who’re unaware the program exists, which is one of the reasons he’s out talking it up.

The Tennessee Promise is part of Haslam’s “Drive t0 55” initiative, which aims to increase the number of high school grads in the state with some form of higher education certificate to 55 percent — the percentage of jobs in the state that will require some sort of degree in about 10 years. Currently the number of degree-holding Tennesseans is at 32 percent, Haslam said.

“We’re trying to increase the whole spectrum of qualified candidates in the workforce in Tennessee,” he said.

The governor said big companies like Volkswagen and mom-and-pop shops alike have shared similar concerns with him about Tennessee — namely, that the Volunteer State needs to do a better job prepping skilled laborers for the job market.

Haslam noted to the students, though, that even though the two years of school they’re being offered is “free” to them financially, they’re going to be expected to produce results.

“Your obligation is to complete high school, fill out the financial aid forms, work with a mentor — which we will provide you, who will help you with all of that — and then perform eight hours of community service,” Haslam said.

According to the program’s website, Tennessee Promise is a “last-dollar scholarship, meaning it will cover college costs not met from Pell, HOPE, or TSAA.”

The money to fund the “last-dollar” program came from reserve funds from the Tennessee Lottery, initially created for the HOPE Scholarship, which was aimed at high-achieving students.

“It was helping some students, but not enough to where we could get to a larger percentage of Tennesseans having a degree,” Haslam said after the event. “So, we took some reserve money that had built up in the lottery fund, and used that to form an endowment. So, this is a promise, the money’s not going to go away, we’re only spending the interest off of that endowment.”

When the free tuition plan was announced earlier this year, there were some concerns that it could hurt four-year higher education institutions. However, Haslam said he’s confident the program will “increasing the size of the funnel opening” for kids to go to school.

More young adults headed to post-secondary institutes means more graduates, which translates to a better-skilled and better-educated workforce that’ll be more attractive to companies thinking about moving here, he said.

Haslam added that the trend he expected to see is students going to a community college for two years, and then continuing on to a four-year school.

Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, a Chattanooga Republican and the sponsor of the legislation in the General Assembly’s lower chamber, told reporters after the event that the Tennessee Promise “is going to be the highlight of the governor’s first term,” and that he hopes to see it built-on over the next four years.

“It was the most important bill I believe I’ve ever moved,” McCormick said.

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Press Releases

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.

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Press Releases

Bill Proposing In-State Tuition Rates for Veterans Passes Senate Education Cmte

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; March 8, 2013:

NASVHILLE, Tenn. – Legislation that would ensure all honorably discharged veterans that relocate to Tennessee receive in-state tuition rates at state colleges and universities has been approved by the Senate Education Committee. The bill, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), applies to veterans who register for college within 24 months from the time of their honorable discharge.

“Passage of this legislation makes a clear statement that Tennessee is committed to the success of veterans in their transition to civilian life,” said Senator Gresham. “We welcome them to come to Tennessee to complete their education after separating from military service and believe they will fill a need in our workforce as a result of the skills they learned in the armed forces.”

Gresham said many veterans discharged from service are eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which provides financial support for education and housing to individuals with at least 90 days of aggregate service after September 10, 2001. This includes graduate and undergraduate degrees, vocational/technical training, and approved training programs. The GI Bill also applies to individuals discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days.

“The GI Bill is a tremendous tool in helping our veterans complete a college education or training course,” added Senator Gresham. “Currently, veterans that move into Tennessee from another state to complete their education following military service are classified as out-of-state students. This can create a ‘benefit gap’ between what the GI Bill pays and the actual costs the student incurs.”

Senate Bill 208 closes the benefit gap by providing a way for veterans to establish residency after their classes begin. This must be done within one year of the student-veteran’s start of classes by registering to vote, getting a Tennessee driver’s license, registering a motor vehicle, providing proof of employment or showing other documents proving residency has been established. In addition, the bill grants members of the Tennessee State Guard one free course per term at any state-supported post-secondary institution, capped at 25 tuition waivers annually.

The Tennessee State Guard is the all-volunteer arm of the Tennessee Military Department which provides a professional complement of personnel to support the Tennessee National Guard.

“Many of our state’s employers express frustration at the difficulty they encounter finding employees with technical skills and aptitude necessary for the modern industrial workplace,” Gresham added. “Veterans separating from the service often have the skill set these employers seek. This legislation serves as an incentive for student veterans to come to Tennessee, fill these jobs while receiving their education, and for them to call Tennessee home afterwards.”

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Press Releases

TN High School ACT Scores Drop Slightly

Press Release from the Tennessee Department of Education; August 17, 2011:

Today ACT is releasing “The Condition of College and Career Readiness,” a report which highlights statewide data on ACT scores, academic achievement and post-secondary aspirations. Tennessee’s results from the April 2011 test show the state’s public high school students’ composite ACT score dropped from 19.1 in 2010 to 19.0 out of 36 in 2011, highlighting the ongoing need for education reform to achieve the state’s Race to the Top goal of broader college readiness.

Across the state, 24 percent of students are college-ready in math, 55 percent in English, 38 percent in reading and 17 percent in science. The report also shows a wide achievement gap between white students and black students. Only 7 percent of black students are college-ready in math, according to ACT results.

In a survey administered as part of the exam, nearly 75 percent of Tennessee’s public high school students said they aspire to attain at least a four-year bachelor’s degree, but most are not prepared to take college classes in core academic subjects without remedial help.

“These results are unacceptable, and we have to do more to ensure that our high school students’ academic results align with their aspirations,” said Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “As U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan noted in his visit to Tennessee last week, we must aspire to be the fastest growing state in the country, while being honest about where we stand and how far we still need to go.”

Every year, the Tennessee Board of Regents spends $26 million for remedial and developmental courses for underprepared students, said TBR Chancellor John Morgan.

“We cannot continue to provide remediation as a stop-gap for poor high school outcomes. It is imperative that our institutions work closely with our high schools, our current teachers and our future teachers to help improve preparation.”

Tennessee officials believe that a nearly 4 percentage point gain in students scoring on grade level in reading on last year’s Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program test, and 7 percentage point gain in math will translate into higher ACT scores in future years.

“College readiness is not an issue determined in 11th grade, but is the culmination of an entire system of education,” Huffman said. “I am encouraged by the progress we are making in earlier grades, and feel a sense of urgency to ensure that this translates into higher skill levels by graduation.”

Well-educated and fully prepared high school graduates are the key to a successful community and a thriving economy, said Jamie Woodson, president and CEO of Tennessee’s State Collaborative on Reforming Education.

“Whether our students choose to attend trade schools, community colleges or four-year universities, it is critical that they have a solid K-12 foundation, Woodson said.

The ACT is a nationally recognized measure of college readiness. If students meet benchmarks on the standardized test in English, math, reading and science, they are considered college-ready, meaning they could take a college-level course in that subject area and earn at least a “C.”

To see more data on college readiness in Tennessee and other states, visit www.act.org.

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Business and Economy Education Liberty and Justice News Tax and Budget

Expect More to Get More from Education: Haslam

Gov. Bill Haslam offered some simple math for a group of educators in Memphis on Wednesday and called it a “recipe for a problem.”

He started with the statistic that only 21 percent of the state’s population has a college degree. The national figure is about 30 percent. Some 20 years ago, the United States ranked first in the world in the percentage of the population with a degree.

“Today we’re ninth,” Haslam said. “If Tennessee were a country, we would rank about 79th in the world in percentage of adults with a degree.”

Haslam indicated he subscribes to estimates suggesting more than half the jobs created in the foreseeable future will require workers to have a degree. If that proves true, it’ll pose problems for Tennessee, said the governor.

It was another in Haslam’s long list of examples of how jobs and education are linked. Yet he hardly believes he is the first governor to emphasize the importance of education.

Haslam spoke to a conference of the Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence at the Presbyterian Day School, an event that allowed him to hook up with long-time friend and past business partner Brad Martin, head of a venture capital firm and philanthropist. They sat next to each other on the stage.

Haslam told the audience that the most important task is to “change the culture of expectation around education.”

He noted that the state ranks in the 40s among the 50 states in education.

“People ask, ‘How did you wind up in the 40s?'” Haslam said. “We expected far too little.”

Haslam said he had read recently about Austin Peay, governor of Tennessee in the 1920s, who said he was going to be the education governor. Peay had a long line of successors with the same message.

Haslam cited some efforts like his own education reform agenda, which includes revamping teacher tenure and adding charter school options, but he said those steps aren’t the whole solution, and he said since the state still ranks in the 40s in education it’s a sign that what the state has been doing hasn’t been working.

Haslam said someone asked him recently if he could have 500 more of something — whether it be “500 farmers, engineers, linebackers, bankers, or anything” — he knew what he would choose.

“My answer is simple. It would be 500 more great principals,” he said.

Haslam has spoken often about principals. He frequently tells groups that if they walked into any school, after a short amount of time, they could tell if the school had a good principal or not, and that the principal wouldn’t even need to be there for them to draw a conclusion.

“How can we more effectively select and train and give feedback to principals?” he asked rhetorically. “I think if we can do that, we can move the needle quicker than anything else.”

Haslam continues to be big on the amount of data available on student performance in the state in order to evaluate teachers. The value-added assessments of students have been a treasure trove of information to have as a resource, and Haslam repeated his belief that the state should move now to make those evaluations, instead of waiting for a perfect set of measurements.

He said if the Haslams had had that kind of data in terms of their business, Pilot Corp., which owns a chain of truck stops and convenience stores, the company “could have competed incredibly more effectively.”

The governor said he talked to his brother, Jimmy, who is the head of Pilot, recently and told him he couldn’t believe how many talented people are going into the field of education, much like another generation went into the Peace Corps to try to change the world.

And he used that observation to form a message to teachers.

“I’m very grateful for what you have decided to do with your life,” Haslam said.

“There is no profession I know of today that is as critical to making our state a better place to live and work and play than teaching.”

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Press Releases

Tennessee Joins National Alliance To Increase Degree Completion

Press Release from the Gov. Phil Bredesen Administration, March 3, 2010:

17 States Join ‘Complete College America’ To Make College Completion A Top Priority

NASHVILLE – Governor Phil Bredesen today announced that Tennessee will join efforts with Complete College America, a national nonprofit organization working to dramatically increase the number of young adults with a college degree or credential. Tennessee will join 16 other states to form the Complete College Alliance, a group of leading states committed to significantly increasing the number of students successfully completing college and closing attainment gaps for traditionally underserved populations. Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia have also joined the Alliance.

“Tennessee is well positioned to be a leader in this area because of the work we already have underway to achieve the goal of improved college completion rates,” Bredesen said. “We know what’s at stake if we don’t do better. Our economy hinges on our ability to develop a more skilled workforce and, more fundamentally, to give our kids a quality education so they can earn a good living. I’m pleased Tennessee has the opportunity to become even more involved in this effort.”

The early efforts of Bredesen and other state policy makers positioned Tennessee to be among the first to sign on to Complete College American’s reform agenda. In January, lawmakers capped a year-long effort to comprehensively restructure the state’s system of colleges and universities with the special session passage of the “Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010.” The legislation includes a new approach for funding higher education based on graduation rates and eliminates remedial programs at four-year institutions. Instead, all remediation will be conducted at the state’s 13 community colleges through new dual-enrollment guarantees.

As a member of the Alliance, Tennessee will receive tangible and practical support to help implement a range of strategies that will bring needed changes in the culture and practices of its public postsecondary institutions. Alliance states will also receive in-depth technical support from America’s leading experts on improving college success, including assistance in building consensus for reform, developing policy action plans and guidance on applying for and effectively using federal funding to produce more degrees.

“The long-term economic growth of any state is tied to the educational attainment of its citizens,” said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America. “Reform-minded states like Tennessee are taking the lead in addressing this serious national issue head on. The implications of ‘business as usual’ are too great not to act. That’s why the leadership of Governor Bredesen and the state of Tennessee will have such a profound impact.”

The Volunteer State lags the nation in completion of bachelor’s degrees, ranked 40th, and associate degrees, ranked 45th. On average, only 46 percent of full-time students at four-year schools graduate within six years, and only 12 percent of full-time community college students attain associated degrees within three years.

For more information, visit http://completecollege.org/.

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Education

Republicans Sounding Agreeable to Bredesen’s Education Reform Pitch

Gov. Phil Bredesen’s speech before a joint meeting of the House and Senate for the special legislative session on Tuesday drew skepticism from some in his own party. But to many Republicans on Capitol Hill, the reform plan outlined by the Democratic governor was just what they wanted to hear.

“He has asked us to be bold and join him in this opportunity to prepare students for this global economy and I’m excited about the opportunity,” said Senate Education Committee member Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville. “I think this is an excellent opportunity for Tennessee, and I look forward to this week so we can work together.”

Bredesen is offering two legislative proposals for the special session.

One, called “Tennessee First to the Top Act of 2010,” is designed to position Tennessee to snatch up a portion of the hundreds of millions of dollars the Obama administration is dangling in front of states in “Race to the Top” education funding grants.

The other bill, the “Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010,” is written with the idea in mind of trying to boost lagging college completion rates in Tennessee. “On average, only 46 percent of full-time students at four-year schools graduate within six years, and only 12 percent of full-time community college students attain associate degrees within three years,” Bredesen told lawmakers.

For every 100 students who enter ninth grade in our public schools, Bredesen said, 67 graduate from high school in four years. Of those, 43 go directly to college after graduation, but only 29 return for their sophomore year.

“Just 19 graduate with an associate’s degree in three years or a bachelor’s degree in six years,” Bredesen said. “We can do better. We’ve got to do better.”

For Tennessee schools to have a chance at some of the “Race to the Top” funding, which is part of the stimulus package the Democratic-led Congress and the Obama administration passed last year, changes need to be made to how teachers here are evaluated, said Bredesen.

The “Race to the Top” application specifically requires that student achievement data be added as a “significant factor” to teacher and school principal evaluations, according to the governor. Other states the Bredesen administration sees as “primary competitors” have generally determined that half a teacher’s or principal’s performance evaluation should be based on student achievement.

Currently, it is illegal in Tennessee for school administrators to use student achievement data to rate and review teachers for tenure.

“I know this represents change, but this is not rocket science,” Bredesen said about his proposal to allow student progress to drive official teacher-performance assessments. “It is a commonsense notion; we pay teachers to teach children, a part of their evaluation ought to be how much the children they teach learn.”

Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, said afterward that Bredesen “made a very good case on why we need to do this, and that it’s probably the right thing to do.”

Democrats grumbled that all this proposed change is coming at them without much opportunity for considered debate and analysis. The deadline for the state to apply for the “Race to the Top” grants is Jan. 19. That means a legislative package needs to be on Bredesen’s desk before then.

“I think he’s pretty optimistic. I think he’s entered into a contest where we may or may not win and are trying to change the entire system in a very short period of time,” said Rep. John C. Tidwell of New Johnsonville. “A lot of the details don’t work out.”

While everyone “would love the luxury of time,” said Woodson, “this isn’t the only time in our legislative history that we’ve been talking about these important issues.”

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said tying teacher performance reviews to student test scores “is something (Republicans) have been pushing for years.”

Ramsey predicted that getting the legislative changes Bredesen wants passed through the chamber over which he presides probably won’t be too difficult. “I think we can do it,” said Ramsey. “I don’t see a lot of problem on the Senate side.”