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Local business leaders briefed on ‘Drive to 55’

December 4th, 2013 9:26 am by Hank Hayes

Local business leaders briefed on ‘Drive to 55’

Randy Boyd, Gov. Bill Haslam’s point man for the ‘Drive To 55’ higher education learning initiative, talks to employers at a noon chamber meeting in Kingsport on Monday. Photo by Hank Hayes.

KINGSPORT — Wanted: 494,000 more Tennesseans with either a two-year or four-year degree in higher education by the year 2025.

The goal was outlined Monday to about 50 business leaders at a Kingsport Chamber of Commerce meeting on Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Drive To 55” higher education initiative.

Randy Boyd, a Knoxville businessman serving as Haslam’s point man to move the initiative forward, said the goal is almost like America’s decision in the 1960s to put a man on the moon.

“It’s a decision of will,” Boyd, whose actual title is special adviser to the governor for higher education, said of the initiative.

Tennessee, he said, now ranks 42nd in the nation in working adults with a two-year degree or higher. The statewide graduation rate after six years in a community college is 26 percent and 54 percent in a university.

The plan is to go from 32 percent of Tennesseans with college degrees to 55 percent.

“It’s a really big number. ... We need more of everything,” Boyd said at the chamber meeting. “We need more engineers. We need more architects. We need all the things that come with a four-year degree and above. We also need more people getting two-year certificates at community colleges. ... None of this matters at all if we don’t align higher education with the work force.”

The strategy, said Boyd, is to reduce students’ need for remedial courses, increase dual enrollment and course credit, improve mentoring and reduce financial barriers to education.

There will also be an effort, Boyd added, to reach out to 940,000 adults with some college credit but no degree.

The Haslam administration outreach effort has begun through a partnership with Western Governors University, which offers more than 50 accredited undergraduate and graduate degree programs in high-demand career fields online over the Internet.

Boyd is promoting the Drive To 55 initiative without getting a salary from the state and with no marketing budget.

 In 2009, he helped start tnAchieves, a nonprofit organization that has sent more than 3,200 high school graduates to community college free of charge. The organization now serves 26 counties and operates similar to Northeast State’s “Educate and Grow” scholarships for local students.

Boyd noted many other states don’t have a plan to increase higher education enrollment.

“We’re wanting to share the governor’s mission and make sure everyone understands the importance of Drive to 55, but at the same time we’re hearing everybody’s ideas. Everyone has something to contribute,” Boyd said.

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