Nearly 7,500 Tennessee adults have applied for free technical college under a program called Tennessee Reconnect. This means Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology are expecting more students than ever before.
TCAT Nashville, for example, currently has 1,000 students enrolled, says director Mark Lenz. The number who have applied there for the fall through Tennessee Reconnect is more than 1,600, according to the governor's office.
Many current TCAT students will finish their programs by then, and not all of the applicants will end up attending. But overall, Lenz expects the school to grow by 30 to 50 percent next semester.
That doesn’t seem to make Lenz nervous, though. He believes the school is ready to accommodate more students.
"I came from industry, and that's where every square foot on the shop floor is like waterfront property," Lenz says. The school has applied the same principles.
“We’ve taken over storage space and thrown things away that we didn’t need anymore that were just gathering dust.”
The school is also opening satellite campuses in Portland and Lebanon this summer, and it’s hoping to get a new building approved for the Nashville campus.
It might also offer more classes at night — and even overnight, if there’s enough demand for it. At one company where Lenz used to work, he says, TCAT instructors came onsite and taught between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m.
Luckily for the growing TCATs, they’ve found a friend in Gov. Bill Haslam. Most recently, the state earmarked $5 million for the schools to buy extra equipment.
The application for Tennessee Reconnect closes next week.