The governor is signing the Tennessee Reconnect Grant into law Wednesday — his signature education bill of the year. It guarantees free community college for any adult over the age of 25 or who qualifies as "independent." As a result, colleges are trying to figure out how they can accommodate an influx of adult students.
Under discussion at community colleges are things like how to schedule classes that are more friendly to people with families, or create a hybrid course that's half online, half in-person, or offer a full class that only lasts seven weeks instead of 15.
It also means having people in place at community colleges who can help outside of academics on issues like child care and work conflicts. This does not mean that colleges are going to start offering child care services, says Randy Schulte, a vice-chancellor with the Tennessee Board of Regents, which oversees all the community colleges. But they should know how to respond when a student comes to them with a child care problem.
"We really treat the returning adult student in a very different way than we would treat the traditional 17-, 18-, 19-year-old," he says.
Right now, each community college around the state is forming a small team of staff and faculty that will focus on adult learners. They'll all meet next month to swap ideas.
It's not clear yet whether colleges plan to hire extra staff to deal with the expected growth, Schulte says.
Tennessee Reconnect doesn't officially go into effect until 2018, but students can technically take advantage of the grant starting this fall.