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. 
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