TCAT Nashville | Nashville Public Radio

TCAT Nashville

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Tennessee has put a spotlight on its community colleges in recent years, making these higher education institutions the focus of programs like Tennessee Promise. Now, state officials are trying to give technical colleges the same boost — and they're starting by trying to win over high school guidance counselors.

TN Photo Services

Tennessee's community colleges have been the center of attention this year while the governor's office implemented Tennessee Promise, a free-tuition program for graduating high school seniors. But another branch of the state's higher education system far surpasses community colleges in terms of enrollment growth: technical schools.

Emily Siner / WPLN (File photo)

More than 9,000 Tennessee adults have signed up for free technical college under Tennessee Reconnect, a new statewide grant that covers tuition at any of the state’s 27 colleges of applied technology. State officials are calling it a marketing success.

Students at technical colleges, or TCATs, earn certificates and degrees in fields including welding, cosmetology or information technology. The schools don't have big advertising budgets, says associate vice-chancellor Carol Puryear, and instead rely mostly on word-of-mouth recruiting. 

Emily Siner / WPLN (File photo)

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.