Governor gives $650,000 to TCAT to prepare for new student in fall

Published 9:41 am Tuesday, June 16, 2015

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A new program of study is coming and an existing program is expanding at the Elizabethton Tennessee College of Applied Technology, thanks to a large education grant from the State of Tennessee.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam visited the Elizabethton TCAT Monday morning to announce the school has been awarded a $650,000 grant to help the school’s programs and prepare for an expected influx of students this fall.

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“Studies show that in 10 years, 55 percent of jobs are going to require some sort of college or technical education,” Haslam said. “If we are going to meet the work demands for the state of Tennessee, this is where we are going to have to be.”

With the help of the grant money, a new machine tooling program will be started and the school’s welding program will be expanded to include an off-campus class location, Elizabethton TCAT Director Dean Blevins said.

“We were just astonished to find out we had been named a recipient,” Blevins said. “It is an absolute blessing.”

The machine tooling program – which will teach students skills such as mill work and CNC operation – will be a major benefit to the school, Blevins said.

“It really is a true fit for our region based on the jobs that are here and the skills gap we are working to cover,” he said. “Here at TCAT of Elizabethton we are excited about all our partnerships, but especially our partnership with Snap-on Tools of Elizabethton. The new machine tooling program will go a long way to furthering that partnership.”

The Elizabethton TCAT is also working on a partnership with East Tennessee State University to use some of that school’s vacant space to create a satellite campus of the TCAT in Washington County. The new off-campus welding program could be housed there, Blevins said, adding the nursing program may also be expanded to include that location. “All of this is part of our Drive to 55,” Haslam said. The state’s Drive to 55 initiative is designed to help make obtaining college or technical educations easier for Tennesseans.

Currently, only 34 percent of Tennesseeans have a college degree or technical certification, Haslam said. “While improvements are being made every year, we’ve still got a way to go before we get to 55,” he said.

To help the state and its residents achieve that goal, Haslam worked with the state Legislature to launch two program – Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect.

Under the Tennessee Promise Program, every high school graduate, beginning with the Class of 2015, is eligible for up to two years at a community college or technical school like TCAT for free.

The Tennessee Reconnect program is geared toward helping working adults go back to school to improve their job skills, Haslam said.

“If you are an adult in Tennessee, regardless of your educational background or your age, you can go to a TCAT for free, starting this fall,” he said.

With the two programs creating the potential for a large increase in enrollment at TCAT schools across the state, Haslam said the government needed to do something to support not only the students, but the schools who will serve them.

“It is one thing to say more people should get a degree, but it’s another to put your money where your mouth is,” he said.

This year, the state allocated $5 million in additional funding for equipment and programs at TCAT schools across the state to help meet the demands of increased enrollment, Haslam said.

“We are investing in our residents through the Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect,” Haslam said. “We are investing in the TCATs to make certain they can take care of those new students.”

With more than 80 percent of students who enroll completing the program, the money is a good investment into the state’s workforce, Haslam said.

“Of those who finish, 85 percent get a job in their field right when they graduate,” he said. “Harvard can’t even say that 85 percent of their graduates get a job as soon as they graduate.”