Proponents take higher ed plans to the next level

Matthew Lane • Mar 22, 2007 at 12:48 PM

KINGSPORT - The committee responsible for bringing a higher education center to downtown Kingsport will soon be rolling out three new initiatives to take the project to the next level.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously voted Tuesday night to move forward on the higher education center proposal and budget up to $2.5 million for architectural, engineering and planning services and any possible land acquisition.

The idea being put forth is for a $12 million, 50,000-square-foot higher education center to be located somewhere downtown. Northeast State Technical Community College would operate the facility and offer the first two years of core courses. Participating universities and colleges would then offer their bachelor's and master's programs, with degrees being in the name of the university offering the program.

NSTCC President Bill Locke has said the next step would be to hire an architect and begin designing the building. Four sites have been narrowed down, including two city-owned ones - the Shelby Street parking lot and the Clinchfield Street parking lot.

Times-News Publisher Keith Wilson, a member of the committee, said there are three initiatives being worked on in connection with the higher education center.

"The mission isn't to build a higher education center. That's step one. There are more steps involved because at the end of the day what I think the city is trying to accomplish is to get its baccalaureate and graduate degrees above the national average," Wilson said. "Building a higher education center, in and of itself, doesn't do that."

Wilson said the committee has to deal with getting people to attend the higher education center, adding that the two barriers to higher education are time and money.

The first initiative being worked on is a program to allow high school seniors to be dual-enrolled at high school and the higher education center. Wilson said this proposal is still in the planning stage and is aimed toward getting kids through high school, trained and into the job market as much as a year faster than they currently can.

"This program is about using their senior year in a much more productive way, to get them into a higher-paying job and fill these jobs faster," Wilson said. "The emphasis is on moving kids through high school who are going to be in the technical training path and getting them in the work force six, eight or 12 months faster than they currently can do that."

The second initiative is a $2 million endowment scholarship program aimed at people 25 years old and older called "Next Step." Wilson said the NSTCC Foundation would oversee and raise the funds for the scholarship, and the committee would be rolling a fund-raiser out in the next few months.

"We have a lot of programs that are designed for kids getting out of high school and attending college. We have very few opportunities for people who are 25 and older and have already been in the labor force and want to go to the next level," Wilson said. "This gives them the opportunity to go back to school, back to the (higher education) center or NSTCC and finish their technical degrees."

The third leg of new initiatives the committee plans to roll out is going before the Sullivan County Commission and requesting the Educate and Grow Scholarship program be extended for students seeking a four-year degree.

The Educate and Grow program began in 2001 and provides two years of tuition to NSTCC for high school graduates with parents who live in Kingsport. Sullivan and Unicoi counties soon after adopted the program, and last year Gov. Phil Bredesen said he hopes to use the program as a model to offer community college tuition assistance to any new high school graduate in Tennessee.

"(The proposal) extends that program for the next two years if you get your degree and stay in the program and earn a degree in Sullivan County," Wilson said.

The committee is working out the cost estimate and requirements for extending the Educate and Grow program, Wilson said, reminding people to "not go away. It isn't over yet."

"Getting a building built doesn't solve the problem. It's a piece of the problem. Now we have to fill the building, and here are three programs that we believe will help us do that," he said.

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