The Tennessee Higher Education Commission wants to help assist rural counties across the state by providing better educational opportunities.
Executive Director Mike Krause says one of the state’s biggest opportunities for improvement is the Upper Cumberland.
“Looking at the plateau, if you visit some of the counties – and I have – as soon as you pull into the county, it’s evidence that there was no economic recovery here. It never came,” Krause says. “We have got to do better at reaching our rural counties.”
Krause spoke before the Tennessee Tech Board of Trustees Thursday to present statistics on higher education across the state. He says the solution to the problem likely lies within rural high schools.
“I’m not so convinced that our most under-utilized facilities in the state aren’t high schools, who turn off all their lights at 3 p.m., yet have classrooms and CTE labs we should be using at night for adults,” Krause says. “Stay tuned, we are working on how to make that come to life, but I am hoping every university will look at this map and say we have got to do better on the Cumberland Plateau.”
Krause says the number of people in the workforce without some level of college education is a cause for concern.
“What worries me is many of the jobs these non-college graduates hold as we speak are not durable jobs,” Krause says, “and in the next downturn that is inevitable, I worry they’ll find themselves in a difficult position.”
Another area of concern highlighted by Krause and THEC statistics was how income effected a college student’s education.
“How you do in college in Tennessee has to do with how much your family makes. That’s what the data is very clear about,” Krause says. “Thinking through your freshman class from a risk-stratified model is a recommendation we are really commending to the campuses right now. The freshman you in enroll next fall are going to have very important indicates about whether or not they need some interventions.”
Krause commended Tennessee Tech’s Trustees for their efforts in these areas, something he says is the reason why TTU is the highest-performing public university in the state.
“These are not expensive things. I will also tell you, this Board, Tech is doing many of those things. That’s why your success rates are going up,” Krause says. “But I think it’s really important for our next step in Tennessee to make sure where you live or what your parents make isn’t what determines whether or not you become a college graduate.”
Krause presented statistics showing Putnam County led the region with nearly one-in-three adults having a college degree. The rate is nearly halved in rural areas such as Clay, Pickett, and Van Buren counties.