Haslam Visits Greeneville; Details New Education, Workforce Development Hopes
BY MICHAEL S. RENEAU
ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR
Gov. Bill Haslam commended Greene County educational and workforce development efforts Tuesday when he spoke at a luncheon hosted by the Greene County Partnership Manufacturers' Council.
Haslam addressed a large crowd at the General Morgan Inn less than 24 hours after delivering his fourth State of the State address in Nashville Monday night. As in his State of the State address, he focused mainly on education and workforce development in Tennessee.
He started by complimenting Greene County's "pathways" initiative, after Greene County Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk talked about the project in remarks prior to Haslam's speech.
The pathways initiative was developed over a period of more than a year beginning in 2011 by a committee made up of local educational and manufacturing professionals. The program was introduced formally in early 2013.
It is designed to provide a structured means for a student to decide on a career direction -- and then to gain the necessary education to reach the specific job and earning level the student desires.
The "pathways" are health science, manufacturing, transportation, business/finance, and education/professional services.
Kirk said Tuesday that those five pathways represent 95 percent of the jobs forecast for Upper East Tennessee in the next five years.
Speaking after Kirk, Manufacturers' Council Chairman and American Greetings General Manager Scott Crawford said the pathways program can especially help address a stigma he said he's noticed attached to the manufacturing industry both locally and nationally.
"Young folks and their parents didn't think manufacturing was a worthwhile career," Crawford said.
"I've seen the importance that manufacturing has for families and communities, especially small communities like our own."
PATHWAYS PROGRAM 'A MODEL'
"The career pathways that [Kirk] is talking about really is a model for what we're trying to do," Haslam said after Kirk and Crawford spoke.
His talk centered on the fact that Tennessee has historically done poorly at preparing students to enter the workforce, a gap which he said means employers have a hard time finding the skilled workers they need in the state.
"If you're going to be great at anything, you have to figure out your assets and your strengths, but you also have to address those things which are challenges to you," he said.
"When it comes to preparing the workforce, we have left a little to be desired."
Haslam said efforts to better prepare Tennesseans for the work force and make the state more prosperous begin with basic education.
He pointed to the 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), which state officials have said shows Tennessee has made the most progress over the last 10 years in student scores.
Select students from all 50 states take the same assessment each year, which grades fourth-, eighth- and 12th-graders in several subject areas and is often referred to as "the nation's report card."
"For us it means more people are prepared to go to high school," Haslam said.
The governor also said he hopes to pay teachers across the state much better over the next few years.
"We also want to be the state with the fastest-improving teacher salaries," he said Tuesday. "That is a big challenge in tough budget times, but we think it's the right thing to do."
Haslam is including a 2 percent pay raise for teachers in the $32.6 billion budget he's proposing for this year, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
Haslam also spent time talking about his newly-announced "Tennessee Promise" program, unveiled at his State of the State address Monday.
In an effort to encourage more students to attend two-year community and technical colleges, the program will eliminate tuition and fees for new high school graduates who attend a two-year community college.
It does the same for any student attending a technical college, regardless of when the student finished high school, Haslam said.
"Cost is a big barrier to a lot of families when they talk about higher education," Haslam said.
The program's thrust, he said, is to encourage students who wouldn't normally consider higher education to take it up, and to steer other students to community colleges who would benefit from attending a two-year program prior to a four-year program.
The program is part of Haslam's "Drive to 55" campaign. By the year 2025, he said, it's projected that 55 percent of jobs in Tennessee will require some form of degree or certificate beyond high school. Right now, only 32 percent of Tennesseans possess such a certification.
Kirk had earlier cited figures used when local officials created the pathways program. She said 27 percent of people with post-high school certificates -- but not associate's degrees -- earn more than those with bachelor's degrees.
ROLE OF LOTTERY FUNDS
In question-and-answer dialogue after his prepared remarks, Haslam said Tennessee Promise will be paid for by taking reserves from the state's lottery funds and turning them into an endowment.
Lottery scholarships will also be "redistributed," Haslam said. All lottery scholarship recipients will receive $3,000 for their first and second years of school and $5,000 for their third and fourth years.
Currently, students at four-year institutions receive $4,000 per year for all four years, while students at two-year institutions receive $2,000 per year.
Walters State Community College Dr. Wade McCamey said in a written statement released Tuesday he supports Haslam's tuition proposal.
"We applaud Gov. Haslam's commitment to help more Tennesseans earn college degrees and certificates through his 'Tennessee Promise' plan," McCamey said.
"Increasing accessibility to college is vital not only to creating a more-educated and skilled workforce but also to improving the quality of life for individuals living in our region."
When asked if he'd be willing to fund similar initiatives to make schooling free for students at four-year colleges, Haslam said he didn't think there's enough money.
"The dollars don't work to guarantee that, to be honest with you, on a four-year basis," he said.
Haslam also said he's launching education initiatives to encourage more dual enrollment among high school students -- in which they can take classes for college credit while in high school -- and to get students to take remedial courses for college during high school, not during college.
His dual enrollment program would make a student's first dual enrollment class free, while the second, third and fourth dual-enrollment classes would come at reduced rates, he said.
He said students who take a dual enrollment class in high school have a 94 percent likelihood of attending college, versus 60 percent of students who do not take dual enrollment classes.
Haslam's push for education changes comes because he's said over the more than three years in his time as governor that he's noticed that Tennessee workers need better preparation for the workforce -- technical skill sets, especially.
"One of my main jobs is representing Tennessee as we go out and sell it as a place to grow and expand your business," he said.
He said that, in doing so, he's encountering what's known as the skills gap -- the gap between what new employers need in new workers and the skills the work force actually has.
"It's a constant battle because other states are out thee fighting a well," he said.
The luncheon was sponsored by C&C Millwright Maintenance Company and US Nitrogen.