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Tennessee smooths path for returning students

Reconnect + Complete aims for non-traditional students whose college experiences were cut short
University Business, December 2015
Adult students engage with their instructor at Lipscomb’s behavioral assessment center, which uses tactics traditionally used in the corporate world to identify and to award credit for incoming students’ life experiences.
Adult students engage with their instructor at Lipscomb’s behavioral assessment center, which uses tactics traditionally used in the corporate world to identify and to award credit for incoming students’ life experiences.

A series of initiatives championed by Gov. Bill Haslam in Tennessee—home of the Tennessee Promise free community college initiative—promotes higher education to learners of all ages.

The Reconnect + Complete initiative for degree completion aims for an elusive demographic: non-traditional students, many with families and careers, whose college experiences were cut short by illness, financial troubles or other issues.

The $1.1 million program targets about 110,000 Tennessee adults (over the age of 25) who have some college credit. The Tennessee Higher Education Commission is awarding grants up to $50,000 to help individual universities reach out to former students. A television advertising campaign and a direct mail push are slated for 2016.

In Nashville, Lipscomb University’s adult learning program is over a decade old. Officials are using its Reconnect + Complete grant to improve the experience for non-traditional students.

Nina Morel, dean of Lipscomb’s College of Professional Studies, says the grant allowed her department to collaborate with other parts of the university that serve adult students; this led to the formation of an adult student advisory board that meets monthly.

Lipscomb also increased hours at its College of Professional Studies and Academic Success Center; added a phone line at the financial aid and registrar’s offices, offering an additional 25 hours of service a week; and clarified financial aid communications on the university website for adult applicants.

It filmed a series of instructional videos to help returning students find useful resources and support staff on campus as well.

Middle Tennessee State has focused on competency-based education for about eight years through its Prior Learning Assessment program. David Gotcher, interim dean of Middle Tennessee’s University College, says his institution is using a Reconnect + Complete grant to launch an adult-aimed website that includes detailed information about how to apply and lists the university’s online course offerings.

Ultimately, administrators hope these efforts will empower adults who thought obtaining a college degree wasn’t possible.

“It’s beneficial to our community and to our students to have age diversity on campus,” says Morel. “The vast majority are encouraged by what they learn, as most people come in thinking that they’re not going to do as well as they do.”

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