“Get them in. Get them out!” That was the message of two education advocates to President Obama in June 2010 to emphasize the value of speedy graduation and job placement. They wanted to include this philosophy in the newly created Community College and Career Training Act.
James P. Merisolis, president of the Lumina Foundation and Stan Jones, president of Complete College America made the pitch to the new undersecretary of education James Kvaal. They pointed to models in the country such as the 27 Tennessee Technology Centers (TTC) in Tennessee that offer ”one-year certificate programs” in high demand fields. These institutions focus on getting students a credential in a short period of time and getting them jobs ASAP.
“Our graduation rate is 75% and job placement rate is 92%,” said Dean Blevins president of the Tennessee Technology Center in Elizabethton, Tennessee.
Since 1965 Tennessee Tech Centers have been training students high-demand skills such as field mechanics, welding, millwright, pipe fitting, manufacturing processes and Licensed Practical Nursing in course work designed by area industries and the medical field.
Students can go into co-op programs with companies such as Tennessee Eastman and eventual full employment directly from Tennessee Tech said Blevins. “We will sit down with a company and design programs to fill a skills gap. Then we help students find financial aid.” (For example, Grainger company sponsors a $7,000 tuition grant for students.)
“But TTC’s affordable tuition is the best bang for buck in the region. And our staff teaches work ethics along with skills-specific courses. All students follow strict rules regarding attendance, being on time, meeting obligations of coursework and receive much guidance,” said Blevins.
Many of the students trained are from lower-income families and they go onto well-paid jobs. In addition, TTC may be just the beginning of higher education for many students. They can articulate into 2-4 year degrees at Northeast State, ETSU and other colleges.
“TTC of Elizabethton has the largest Practical Nursing program in the state as a single institution provider. Health care is the largest job market in this region and manufacturing is second. There is a long waiting list for the Practical Nursing program and all our programs,” said Blevins.
But a major facility expansion may take care of that waiting list. When Blevins assumed his position as president in August 2009 he hit the ground running and soon developed with state representative and House Speaker Kent Williams (from Carter County) a $16 million, 80,000 S.F. expansion of TTC-Elizabethton.
The expansion will consolidate all classes onto one campus, better serve students on waiting lists, and meet employer demands in three new buildings on the campus in Elizabethton. The buildings will be a model of green technology using geothermal heating, solar panels, a vegetative roof that will capture 99% of rainfall to prolong life of the roofs and utilize green materials throughout the interiors. The structures will be a showplace for green energy and could be completed in three years.
“We believe the TTC philosophy of teaching specific skills in a short turnaround with immediate employment as our goal, will be the new trend in workforce education. Many institutions of higher learning measure their success by head count, but at TTC it’s about performance,” said Blevins.
With a job placement success rate of 92% you can’t argue with that idea.