If Tennessee is going to give community colleges greater prominence in the state's higher education system, the two-year schools need to have their own leadership, Gov. Phil Bredesen said.
There needs to be "much broader use of community colleges as entrée to the four-year schools," Gov. Bredesen said to the Times Free Press. "One of the ways to make this happen is bring the community colleges under a single management."
The Tennessee Board of Regents, which maintains the state's 13 community colleges, should create a vice chancellor for community colleges, he said. The system currently has only a vice chancellor for academic affairs and a vice chancellor for the state's technology centers.
Board of Regents officials favor creating a new vice chancellor position as long as there is funding to support the senior-level post.
"This is an idea that our community college presidents have wanted for some time," said Mary Morgan, a spokeswoman for the Board of Regents. "The only problem with doing that has been financial."
Community colleges leaders have said the Board of Regents needs someone who will be concerned about the distinct mission and services of community colleges, for example, career technical training and remedial classes.
"It has felt uneven the way it is organized now," said Ms. Morgan.
Jim Catanzaro, president of Chattanooga State Community College, could not be reached for comment because he is on vacation, but Chattanooga State officials said they support anything that will strengthen the standing of community colleges.
"We really think that being part of TBR is a benefit to the colleges," said Eva Lewis, associate vice president of effectiveness and research at Chattanooga State.
To create the position, the Board of Regents would have to vote to approve it. Howard Roddy, a board member from Chattanooga, said the idea will garner a lot of support.
"Certainly, with the governor's restructuring plan, community colleges will play a major role in higher education," he said. "Having a person at TBR that would coordinate all the community colleges is not a bad idea. I think it would help ensure some continuity and moving toward that goal of graduating more students faster."
The new community college vice chancellor would ensure that a new statewide transfer agreement - which would allow any student with a two-year degree to enter directly into state college bachelor's degree program as a full-fledged junior - is enforced, the governor said.
The transfer agreement is expected to be voted on in the upcoming legislative special session on education. In the session, to begin Monday, Gov. Bredesen plans to unveil legislation intended to increase the state's dismal college graduation rates. UTC's graduation rate is 42 percent, records show.
He said he has a plan to improve transfer agreements, with the exception of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
A new funding formula, which will reward campuses for graduation rates instead of enrollment figures, also will be debated in the special session, he said.
The special session will not include legislation about dormitories, although the governor still supports the idea of building residence halls on some community college campuses.
"Campus housing is not in there because it is something that can be done by TBR," Gov. Bredesen said.