JONESBOROUGH - Johnson City and Washington County leaders had a lot to consider following a presentation Thursday by Bill Locke, president of Northeast State Technical Community College, on a combined city/county scholarship fund.
The proposed fund is similar to one adopted by the city of Kingsport five years ago. It calls for the city and county to fund the scholarship program, which would be administered by Northeast State.
"When we started out five years ago, Kingsport allotted $50,000 for students at Dobyns-Bennett High School," Locke told educators and officials from both the city and county governments during a meeting at the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough.
"In the beginning, the thinking was that we had a terrible problem with the qualified work force - there weren't many, and we were having a hard time recruiting businesses to the area," Locke said.
"We wanted to find some way to make us look different from the surrounding cities, states, etc. I've even referred to it as an economic development fund."
Locke said that at the time Kingsport and Hawkins County had a very small ratio of students going to college and an even smaller ratio that held baccalaureate degrees.
"This is a program that offers a K-14 education," he said. "It pays full tuition for two full years at Northeast State after high school graduation.
"The only criteria is that you take a 12-hour, full load of classes; you graduate from a local high school in your county; you have a 2.0 grade point average; and you've lived in the county for at least a year."
Locke said the scholarships would not cover the cost of any remedial courses.
Locke said Unicoi County also has participated in a similar program, Johnson County is looking into starting a scholarship fund, and he has met with officials from Carter County on four occasions to encourage them to create a fund.
"Obviously there are serious problems in education across the country, and colleges and universities have places where they can improve, too, but we've simply got to get more people in college and more people prepared for the job market," Locke said.
"This is something that's going to be there saying to these seniors, â€˜If you keep your grades up and study, you'll have a scholarship waiting on you when you graduate.'"
Though Locke said there was no commitment that required a student receiving a scholarship to stay in the area and work following graduation, he did note that the program had a 95 percent placement rating.
"In my opinion it's all about giving people an opportunity to go to school who never thought they had one," he said. "It's a no-lose proposition."
No action on whether or not to fund a scholarship program was taken by city or county officials.