Friday, February 3, 2017

Mom by Day, Student by Night

As a returning adult student Governor Haslam’s plan to extend free education to adult students got my attention. It was the “Drive to 55” campaign that inspired me to return to college and finish my degree. While I was fortunate to get grants to help me accomplish that goal, there’s a large number of adults who can’t afford to go to school but don’t qualify for help. Hopefully now we can pave the way for more adults to get their degrees and improve their quality of life.

Several people have asked me lately what it’s like being an adult going back to school. Everyone faces different challenges and I can only offer my own perspective, but I’ll bet that a lot of students would agree that balancing school, work, and family is tough. I mentioned in a recent interview that going to college is “not just adding something into your life, but changing your whole way of life.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think a lot of us came back to school because we needed a change.

This week was challenging because my son spent several days out sick. That meant juggling different options and having to skip one class, which will mean more work for me in the long run. Fortunately I’ve been able to take advantage of Vol State’s online option for many of my classes, which means that I can participate in class discussions at midnight if I need to. I’ve spent countless nights studying into the early hours of the morning, only to have to get my son up for school at 7am. I don’t officially recommend that, but you do what you have to do.

I’m on my fifth and final semester at Vol State and looking forward to graduation in May. It has gone by so fast. Looking back, I was concerned about being able to do it all. I prioritized and made lists – I made a lot of lists! – and just kept doing the next thing on the list. Some of the classes intimidated me, like math, but I approached it one concept at a time and it actually wasn’t that bad. The tutors in the Learning Commons were really good at breaking it down when I needed help. It also helped to get to know my professors and not being afraid to talk to them if I was unsure about anything.

Has it been easy? No, but it’s doable. And now I’m about to transfer to a university and continue pushing forward. I’m the author of my own story. What’s your story?

“here's to opening and upward, to leaf and to sap” ~ e.e. cummings

Gaynell Buffinet Payne is a writer, single mother, and student at Volunteer State Community College. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Governor Announces Free Tuition Plan for Adult Students

Governor Haslam recently announced the expansion of the TN Reconnect program to provide free community college and TCAT studies for many adult students. If passed by the legislature, the plan would start in fall of 2018.

Vol State is excited by the program. We already have many adult students on our campuses every semester. We know that it's not just money that holds back adult students. It's also the time commitment; fitting school in with family and work; and even concerns about math. Yes, math. Many adult students are scared to death about taking math again...after 5 or 10 or 25 years. All these concerns are understandable.

Vol State has staff who have been helping adult students with these hurdles for many years. We offer flexible class schedules and tutoring help. Most importantly- adult students feel at home on the Vol State campus. Not just because they see many other adult students here, but also because our students and faculty respect the experience adult students bring to the classroom.

Here are the details on the expanded TN Reconnect Program, including who is eligible. And remember- you don't have to wait until 2018 to start college. That's when the scholarship will start, but we have other ways you can pay tuition if you would like to start classes now. Visit our Admissions web page to get started.

What is the purpose of the legislation?
This legislation creates a comprehensive grant, Tennessee Reconnect, as a last dollar scholarship for adults to attend a community college tuition-free.
Why is Tennessee Reconnect necessary?
Tennessee needs 871,000 degrees to reach our Drive to 55 goal, but only 645,000 high school students are expected to graduate between 2014 and 2022. We must bolster our focus on the recruitment, retention and completion of adults in higher education. At every public higher education institution in Tennessee adults earn a higher share of credentials, often because they return to education more focused on the challenge. Today, the state has a tremendous opportunity to attract more adults to higher education, with more than 900,000 Tennesseans having earned some college credit but no degree. Tennessee Reconnect provides an immediate payoff for Tennessee’s workforce and an investment in the state’s economy that will provide dividends for decades to come. Employers will get the skills and credentials they are seeking from the workforce, and employees will have new opportunities for career growth.
How does Tennessee Reconnect impact the workforce need?
Economic forecasts show that much of our increased workforce demand will be in skills provided at our TCATs and community colleges, and these institutions are cost effective and allow the state to offer last-dollar funds to all students. 55 percent of Tennessee jobs will require postsecondary education and training in 2020, and Tennessee Reconnect will add skilled and credentialed workers to the state’s workforce.1
1 Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce (2012).
How is Tennessee Reconnect different than the TCAT Reconnect scholarship?
The TCAT Reconnect scholarship program is a last dollar grant available to adults attending a TCAT, but the scholarship does not extend to community college. This bill seeks to expand opportunities for adults.
How is Tennessee Reconnect different than Tennessee Promise?
Tennessee Promise is the last-dollar scholarship for graduating high school seniors meeting requirements set forth in § 49-4-708. Tennessee Reconnect is for Tennessee adults who can claim independent status and who do not already have a postsecondary degree.
What are the existing Drive to 55 programs targeted at adults returning to postsecondary?
The current programs of Tennessee Reconnect directly focus on creating opportunities for adults to finish a degree or credential that they have started.
There are several ongoing programs under the overall Tennessee Reconnect initiative, including:
 Tennessee Reconnect TCAT Grant: Passed under the Tennessee Promise Act of 2014 by making changes to the existing Wilder-Naifeh Grant, provides a last dollar scholarship for adults to attend a TCAT tuition free;
 Provided information to 95,173 unique users to date;
 Ready to Reconnect: Grants to institutions to support adult enrollment and retention;
 Reconnect + Complete: Statewide marketing campaign for recruitment of adult learners;
 Community College Reconnect: Limited grant pilot in 2016-17;
 Tennessee Reconnect Ambassador Program: THEC is working with other state agencies to train staff to be Reconnect Ambassadors, encouraging and providing adult employees and clients with information to return to complete a degree.

 Veteran Reconnect: Grants to institutions to increase services for student veterans and provide veteran-specific resources.
 Tennessee Reconnect Communities: 66 counties supporting localized Reconnect efforts through outreach and supportive counseling; this program has the potential to expand to all counties to support the Tennessee Reconnect participants.

How will Tennessee Reconnect be funded?
Adults who meet all the requirements will receive a last-dollar scholarship, which is equal to the difference between tuition and fees and any gift aid (grants and scholarships) that a student receives, funded through the lottery for education account. Tennessee Reconnect will be funded through the lottery for education account and will cost approximately $10 million once fully implemented. There is no additional cost to taxpayers, and the statutory requirement of maintaining $100 million in lottery reserves remains the same.
Who is eligible for Tennessee Reconnect?
To be eligible for Tennessee Reconnect, the student must:
 Not already have an associate or bachelor degree;
 Have been a Tennessee resident for at least one year preceding the date of application for the grant; 
 Complete the FAFSA and be deemed an independent student;
 Be admitted to an eligible institution and enroll in a degree or certificate program at least part time (6 semester hours) beginning with the 2018-19 year; and
 Participate in an advising program approved by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

At what schools can a student use Tennessee Reconnect?
Students can use Tennessee Reconnect at any of Tennessee’s 13 community colleges.
Who is an independent student?
An “independent” student is defined as one of the following: at least 24 years old, married, a graduate or professional student, a veteran, a member of the armed forces, an orphan, a ward of the court, or someone with legal dependents other than a spouse, an emancipated minor or someone who is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.2
2 Please see for a complete list.
Are there continuing eligibility requirements once the student enrolls?
Yes, the student must maintain the following to keep the Tennessee Reconnect grant once enrolled in community college:
 Enroll in classes leading to an associate or certificate;
 Maintain a 2.0 GPA;
 Maintain continuous enrollment:
o Continuous enrollment means a student is enrolled in the fall and spring semesters of a single academic year. Enrollment in summer semester or inter-session terms is not required;
 Complete the renewal FAFSA;
 Enroll in at least 6 semester hours each semester during the fall and spring semesters.

How will the funds be administered?
After students meet all Tennessee Reconnect requirements and all other financial aid, with the exception of loans and work-study that has been exhausted, the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC) will send the funds directly to the institutions. The process for payment will be very similar to the distribution of TSAA grants and lottery scholarships.
How will the advising program work?
The Tennessee Reconnect Community Network, which began in 2016, is based both on national best practices for supporting adult learners as well as the idea that the success of the Drive to 55 will be decided at the local level. Currently, there are 66 counties supporting localized Reconnect efforts through outreach and supportive counseling; this program has the potential to expand to all counties to support Tennessee Reconnect. Those adults utilizing Tennessee
Reconnect will be provided a variety of services in a college success program, including advising and career counseling, from a trained advisor through the Tennessee Reconnect Community Network. All students must participate in the program in order to be eligible for the scholarship, and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission will administer and oversee participation.
How long can a student receive the scholarship?
A student may receive the Tennessee Reconnect grant until the first of the following occurs:
 The student has attained a degree or certificate in an eligible program of study;
 The student has attempted the total number of semester hours necessary for completion of an eligible program of study as determined under Title IV satisfactory academic progress standards, including transfer credits; or
 Five (5) years have passed since the date of initial enrollment as a Tennessee Reconnect student, exclusive of any approved leaves of absence. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Looking for a new career? Consider Mechatronics

Industries ranging from manufacturing to health care are in great need of workers with automation and systems technology skills. Mechatronics is the engineering behind those systems. A new state of Tennessee Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP) 2.0 grant provides $811,000 for Volunteer State Community College to build electronic, hydraulic and pneumatic labs, and to train instructors in Siemens certification for mechatronics. Vol State is partnering with Workforce Essentials in the project called Mechatronics-2-Jobs.

“Mechatronics directly links the skilled workforce required to maintain and program equipment to the manufacturing sector, which is exploding throughout the region,” said John Watz, vice president for Strategic Planning and Development at Workforce Essentials. “Workforce Essentials and the North Tennessee Workforce Board has their whole support behind this program.”

“We have been in discussions with business and industry for more than a year about the need for this program and how to get it started at Vol State.  We are so pleased that we received the grant, which will allow us to move quickly to establish a Mechatronics program at Vol State in Gallatin. “Persons with training and skills in this area are in high demand,” said Vol State president, Jerry Faulkner. “Graduates will easily find good paying positions in this high skill area. At Vol State we are dedicated to meeting the educational and training needs of our service area.” 

Vol State will launch an associate of applied science (AAS) mechatronics degree program on the Gallatin campus in the fall of 2017. It will provide the training and certification education students need for entry level jobs as mechanical engineering technicians, electrical engineering technicians and industrial engineering technicians, just to name a few. Graduates will have skills in the installation, maintenance and repair and of mechanical controls, fluid power systems, electrical equipment and electronic equipment. Vol State already utilizes labs and classes for mechatronics classes at the Cookeville Higher Education Campus (CHEC). The LEAP grant will add labs to the Gallatin campus and equipment at Highland Crest in Springfield.

The bureau of Labor Statistics says the national median salary for mechanical engineering technicians is $53,910. Job growth is projected at 5 percent in coming years. It is even higher in Tennessee. The grant project partners with several area manufacturers for internships and job entry programs. And once in the workplace, students can continue their education for a bachelor of science degree through a partnership with Austin Peay State University. It’s designed specifically for working students.

The LEAP program supports Governor Haslam’s Drive to 55 campaign. It seeks to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or credential to 55 percent by 2025. The LEAP grants go to community and academic partnerships that align workforce needs with higher education. For more information about Mechatronics at Vol State visit

Pictured: The Mechatronics Lab at the Cookeville Higher Education Campus provides hands-on robotics and automation equipment training for Vol State classes there.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

What Will You Be Doing In Two Years?

True story: many years back I saw a news story about a woman in her sixties graduating from a college. My first thought? “You can do that??” Up until then I had thought of college as a young person’s venue only.

At that time I thought that I couldn’t afford to go back to school. It was in my “someday” list, along with the nice house and vacations in the Caribbean. Of course, it’s a little more difficult to get the nice house and vacations in the Caribbean without a college degree. So I waited for something to change, though I didn’t know what that would be.

What changed was something that is too common, especially among women. I got a divorce. Suddenly I was a single mom with almost no income and no degree. It was an event I wasn’t prepared for at all, and the first couple of years consisted of trying desperately not to find ourselves living in a box somewhere. Have you seen the cost of housing lately? In the short time between my being single and my becoming a single mom, prices in Nashville have skyrocketed. I looked up my former apartment to find that the rent had increased by 200%.

My point is that I was not prepared. We try to prepare for disasters by getting insurance and learning basic safety. We learn where the fire extinguisher is and to stop, drop, and roll. There’s no insurance for the event of divorce, and suddenly the privilege of stay-at-home-mom status becomes a severe liability.

An old proverb says “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.” I realized that my whole life was going to consist of trying to keep us off the streets unless I took the plunge and got a degree.

Like me, a lot of adults wait until they’re desperate. You don’t have to. In a couple of years you could be walking across the stage to get your degree, excitingly preparing to transfer to a four-year university or anticipating new opportunities that could come with an associate’s degree. Plant your tree now.

Gaynell Buffinet Payne

Read more:
Take Classes this Coming Spring Semester
10 Reasons You Should Consider Community College Today!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Take Classes this Coming Spring Semester

It may seem like January 17 is a long way off...but with all of the holidays coming up, you won't have much time to think about applying and registering for spring college classes at Vol State. Those classes start January 17. Many people don't realize that you can start your college career in spring or summer. The tough part about spring semester is dealing with those holidays. That's why it's a good idea to get started now. Here are a few steps you need to take:

-Fill out an application. You can do this at any time and it is online. Visit

-If you are returning to Vol State after more than a semester off, you will need to fill out a re-admit application at the same link above.

-If you have previous college credits you may be able to apply those to your Vol State degree, even if you took those classes many years ago. It depends on the class and the college you attended. Admissions will help you get that squared away.

-After you have turned in your application you will get a welcome letter. That letter will have instructions on what to do next.

-In the meantime, you can see the degree programs we offer at Vol State here.

-We offer classes during the day, in the evening and online. You can start to take a look at your options here.

-Many adult students just take a class or two a semester, so they can balance work, family and college.

-We have a support system especially for adult students. Visit the Office of Adult Learners page here.

You are always welcome to visit us at any of our campuses, Gallatin, Springfield, Cookeville and Livingston, if you want to talk to someone first. We can discuss your plans and options at Vol State. You can also reach the Admissions Office on the phone at 615-230-3688.

We hope to see you here this spring semester!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Vol State Launches Cyber Defense Degree Program

The computer hacking of major corporations, government offices and banks is a growing threat. There is a solution: Cyber Defense. Companies across the world are expanding and refining their security systems. Volunteer State Community College is responding to the need for Cyber Defense expertise with a new degree concentration starting this fall.

“It impacts every person on the planet, from the home user with email and online banking to the corporate world and government agencies,” said Teresa Moore, associate professor of CIT-Cyber Defense. “This degree will provide students the opportunity to develop the skills and knowledge required to protect information and assets.”

Cyber Defense can be a lucrative career for people with the proper training, and this is especially true because of the extreme shortage of qualified employees. Cisco estimates there are one million open cyber-related positions worldwide. Vol State offers a comprehensive program that combines the foundation of Computer Information Technology (CIT) with specific Cyber Defense courses. The Vol State degree allows a student to enter the workplace or expand their learning. Recent Vol State CIT graduate John Deering is taking his education to the next level by transferring with a full-ride scholarship to the well-respected Cyber Security program at Capitol Technology University.

“In cyber defense you’re looking for someone who is digging around where they’re not supposed to be,” said Deering. “You find them and you can go get them. If I can help protect people from having their lives turned upside down, that’s something I want to do.” Deering was voted Outstanding Vol State graduate for fall 2015.

Students in the Cyber Defense program can also choose to take certification courses, including Security+, Network+, Mobility+, A+, Cisco CCNA and Cisco CCENT. “Certifications provide an employer or prospective employer proof of specific knowledge and skills,” said Moore. “That’s a real bonus for our students headed out into the workplace.”

Cyber Defense work includes elements of computer detective work and relies heavily on problem solving. Students in the Vol State program will work in the specially designed Cyber Lab with network virtualization and other relevant hands-on tools. The lab was funded by a workforce development grant from the Tennessee Governor’s office.

The new Cyber Defense program starts with the fall semester, but students can join in any semester. Vol State has also announced that the associate of science degree in Computer Science is now a Tennessee Transfer Pathway program that connects to bachelor degree programs at several area universities with complete credit transfer. For more information on Cyber Defense visit

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

5 Tips to Help You Succeed As An Adult Learner

There's no doubt about it: going to college as an older adult student comes with its own challenges. So I'm offering some timely advice, whether you're about to start your freshman year or heading into your sophomore terms.

1. Stop thinking about your age. That’s easier said than done sometimes; especially when you’ve got a good twenty years on everyone in the class – including your professor. But no one cares as much as you do, and if you give it a chance you may even make some new friends.

2. Take online courses. As adults many of us remember when the first online college courses cropped up and seemed a little… scammy. Now even Harvard has online course options. While you probably won’t be able to complete your whole degree online, there are enough options at Vol State to give you a good start. You’ll be able to attend class on your own schedule, making the transition to college a little easier on you and your family. One word of advice, however: don’t expect to study less than you would for a physical class. It still takes discipline and dedication.

3. Embrace your village. Sure, you’re strong and independent. But getting through college when you have children and other responsibilities is not a one-person job. Remember those friends who are always saying “call me if you need something”? Identify which of them are serious, and call them. Sometimes you need a little extra help watching the kids so you can get that essay written.

4. Use your resources. Need help with math? There are instructors waiting at the Learning Commons in the library, and they’re pretty good at explaining the tough stuff. Does the thought of writing essays make you want to hide under your bed? Tutors in the Language Center are ready to help. They even have Rosetta Stone for those taking foreign language courses. The staff at Vol State work extra hard to make sure their student’s succeed. Check out Vol State's College Success Zone for a more comprehensive list of academic help.

5. Take the time, make the time.
No doubt about it, going back to school takes a commitment. It takes times out of your already busy life. But as you feel the crunch, remember that this isn’t forever, but a degree will last forever. It’s for your future, and your children’s future. Keep your eye on the prize and don’t give up!

Have you found your own keys to success? Please share them in the comments! 

You might also enjoy: 10 Reasons You Should Consider Community College Today!

Gaynell Buffinet Payne

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