Student success and workforce development were the names of the game during the annual legislative breakfast held at Motlow on Friday morning.

Administrative officials from four area community colleges and technical schools convened on the Moore County Motlow campus to speak about their achievements over the last year and to chart a course for 2019 and beyond while updating their representatives about their legislative needs.

State Sens. Janice Bowling (R-16) and Shane Reeves (R-14), as well as State Reps. Pat Marsh (R-62) and Mike Sparks (R-49) were in attendance to hear the successes, plans and legislative requests of local educators.

Overall, all the school representatives highlighted their technical training programs, as well as their partnerships with local businesses and industries, both of which create students who are not only academically prepared but also workforce ready.

Motlow president Dr. Michael Torrence started out the comments by saying schools in the Tennessee Board of Regents were “trailblazing” as institutions preparing students for the world and workforce, highlighting the upcoming automation and robotics training center being built in Warren County as an example.

The classes that building will offer, he said, will open up doors for people not just in Warren County, but for adjacent counties as well, because people “go where there are opportunities.”

Torrence also highlighted Motlow’s holistic approach to measuring student success.

“Students aren’t successful just because you put something [like knowledge] in them,” he said. Rather, engaging students as fellow humans and connecting with them on a personal level will better help them succeed in life and their careers.

One way Motlow attempts to bolster student success is through the actions of its behavioral intervention team, Torrence said before introducing the head of that team, Kirsten Moss.

Through the Crisis Assessment and Risk Evaluation – or CARE – Team, Moss said Motlow strives to “intervene with students early” in order to assist them in completing their educational goals.

Another key point for Torrence was the work the Tennessee Reconnect program has done for adults seeking a second chance at an associate’s degree or a technical certification.

The Reconnect program, Torrence said, is helping to impact generational success as well as generational poverty.

“It starts with us,” he said.

Making sure that colleges care enough about each of their students will better prepare them to become productive and influential members of society, he said.

“It is our responsibility to engage with [students],” he said. “Students are successful when they know that you care. I think that’s what makes it work.”

Also in attendance were the presidents of three Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology, including the Shelbyville, McMinnville and Lewisburg campuses.

TCAT-Shelbyville President Laura Monks echoed Torrence’s emphasis on workforce development, as well as the newer developments takin place at her campuses.

Monks shared with great enthusiasm the plans for a 31,000-square-foot facility in Franklin County that will be built in the coming years.

The facility will house several TCAT-Shelbyville programs, including welding, practical nursing, and industrial maintenance automation, Monks said, as well as some additional classroom space for some Motlow classes.

Monks added that the Franklin County facility will also help her campus embark on some dual-credit opportunities with Franklin County High School students in some programs.

Additional highlights for Monks included mention of increased veteran enrollment at TCAT-Shelbyville, thanks to a state grant. The school was one of 13 schools that received funding through the Tennessee Veteran Reconnect Grant, receiving $7,500 in order to recruit more veterans to the school.

Warren Laux, president of TCAT-McMinnville, said in order to continue fostering student success, students needed to feel like they were cared about by their colleges.

“You need to embrace those people – that’s why we’re here,” Laux said.

Laux also lauded the partnerships his campus enjoys with local businesses and Warren County Schools in helping his students make connections after their time on campus is through. He added that through dual enrollment programs, students were able to make solid connections with prospective employers that could lead to lifelong careers.

While a dual enrollment partnership exists with Warren County High School, Laux said his campus was looking into expanding that program to Coffee County Schools in the future.

“There’s a lot of bright things going on,” he said.


Legislative needs

When it came to requests, only two TCAT schools specifically requested anything of the legislators in attendance.

Presidents from TCAT-Shelbyville and TCAT-McMinnville both requested that their representatives take into account their growing campuses when they reconvene on Capitol Hill this month.

Specifically, Monks requested increased or continued funding for the dual enrollment program, educational equipment and campus security for her campus.

Her request to her legislators was to increase the per-student funding for dual enrollment students to $300 to $400 per trimester.

Currently, Monks said, the dual enrollment program is limited to just $100 to $200 per student enrolled per trimester, which doesn’t cover the cost of tuition.

“We barely break even,” Monks said of the current costs.

Monks thanked the representatives for their previous support for campus security funding, which allowed the school to purchase security cameras and replace old alarms, but also requested that funding continue.

“My friends – my fellow presidents– you know this is a thing that keeps you up at night,” she said. “It’s not if it’s going to happen; it’s when.”

Finally, Monks said she would love to expand her programs, but equipment costs made any class expansion difficult.

“As you are looking at legislation this year,” she said, “any support of the equipment funding,” would be appreciated.

Laux also requested consideration for increased dual enrollment funding from his representatives, as continued support for those programs will allow the school “to open new programs to be responsive to business and industry.”


Spending vs. investing

For her part, Sen. Janice Bowling, who represents many of the schools in attendance, said she was encouraged by the updates given that morning.

“Motlow and all the TCATs in the area do a tremendous job of preparing the students for not only careers – and they do that very well – but they prepare them for life,” she said. “They give [students] hope. They give [students] assurance. They give [students] confidence that they can go out and … accomplish what they set their goals on.”

When asked what she thought of the requests made by the schools for increased funding, Bowling said the matter would come down to the money.

“It’s just the funding and looking at what the priorities are,” she said. While Bowling said she doesn’t like spending money just for the sake of it, spending money on educational opportunities is more of an “investment” in Tennesseans.

“A lot of times we’re asked to spend money in Nashville, but what I consider with our TCATs and our community colleges is we’re investing the money, and there is a difference,” she said. “I’m going to make sure those dollars that we’ve put into every [educational] system are actually investing in the future of Tennesseans and the future of Tennessee.”

The 111th Tennessee General Assembly reconvenes at noon next Tuesday, Jan. 8.

Erin McCullough may be reached at