CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Higher education officials engaged state legislators at Cleveland State Community College on Friday to discuss concerns about recognition, funding and increasing the number of Tennesseans with college degrees and certifications.
During the meeting, Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan asked state officials — Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, and Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland — to support a $29 million Tennessee Higher Education Commission funding proposal if it should become part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget proposal.
Of the proposed $29 million, $120,000 is earmarked for Cleveland State Community College, Morgan said.
The college’s facilities, which are nearly 50 years old, should be considered when looking at the schools’ future, said Dr. Bill Seymour, the new Cleveland State president.
“The staff has done a great job of maintaining this facility and, for an institution of this age, it looks pretty good and they make it work well,” Seymour said. “But that comes with a cost to maintain an older facility, not only in terms of repairs and replacements but also energy costs and things of that nature.”
For higher education centers to deliver on the goal of boosting the number of Tennesseans with college degrees, it is important that state legislators support higher education when it accomplishes those goals, Morgan said.
“It’s going to be difficult, but we are very hopeful that the governor will include the THEC recommendation in his budget, both in terms of operations and in terms of capital,” he said.
“If that recommendation is in the governor’s budget, I’m going to support it,” Bell said. “But it’s coming at a time when we’re currently $117 million behind revenue projections for the year.”
However, it is not just about state dollars.
“Perhaps as important as the money, it’s the idea that the state recognizes that as we do better, we’ll receive recognition for that based on the outcomes-based [funding] formula,” Morgan said.
Student enrollment and retention will be key factors to higher education’s success, said David Gregory, vice chancellor for administration and facilities for the Tennessee Board of Regents.
The core objective of Gov. Haslam’s “Drive to 55” initiative calls for 55 percent of Tennesseans to have college degrees or certifications by 2025. To achieve that, the state’s higher education system needs to bring in students it is not now attracting, Gregory said.
The challenge is to get people who never pictured themselves as college students and adult learners to come back for professional credentials.
Bell said he would like to see more of a push in K-12 education to get students into the mindset of considering two-year degrees and other certifications instead of just four-year degrees.
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.