Gov. Bill Haslam knows that solving the complex problems surrounding higher education in Tennessee won't come easy. But on Tuesday, the state took the first step to addressing issues by hosting a post-secondary education meeting at Conservation Hall in the Governor's Mansion.
“The challenge is very obvious ... the status quo won't hold,” Haslam said. “Today is the beginning of a process.”
That process included bringing together representatives from the Tennessee Board of Regents, University of Tennessee System and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to hear presentations from well-renowned higher education experts.
Bill Tucker from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said that for every 100 high school students in Tennessee, only 43 enroll in college and even fewer complete a postsecondary degree. Tucker said the problem boils down to what college presidents called “the iron triangle” — the interconnectivity between cost, quality and access.
That would prove to be a theme throughout the afternoon.
Nicole Smith, an economist and researcher at Georgetown University, pointed out that many manufacturing jobs go unfilled because of a lack of skilled workers. She talked about educating students regarding the occupational outlook for each major or program they consider.
TBR Chancellor John Morgan agreed with the sentiment of connecting higher education to the workplace.
“Part of what will lead to [a public] investment [in higher education] will be meeting the needs of the marketplace and employers,” Morgan said.
Haslam characterized the higher education problem as a cycle.
“Students and parents are saying 'you cant keep raising tuition,' higher education looks to state government and says 'hey, you're not giving us enough money.' State government says 'We're not sure we're getting full value from you,' ” Haslam said.
Haslam said the next step is seven regional stops across the state where the governor will meet with local employers and educators to seek input about higher education initiatives.