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Leaders meet to battle adult education shortfalls

By Xavier Smith xsmith@lebanondemocrat.com • Dec 17, 2015 at 6:58 PM

Several Wilson County leaders met at the Lebanon-Wilson County Chamber of Commerce on Monday morning to combine forces to address the issue of postsecondary education attainment.

Several county officials and primary education personnel attended the meeting sponsored by the Nashville Region’s Vital Signs.

Nashville Region’s Vital Signs is a collaborative effort led by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce to identify important issues that affect a region’s economy and initiate community-driven solutions to address them.

Vital Signs releases annual reports each October for the Nashville Region, which is composed of Wilson, Rutherford, Cheatham, Sumner, Robertson, Macon, Trousdale, Smith, Cannon, Maury, Williamson, Hickman and Dickson counties. 

Laura Moore, vice president of policy for the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, said Vital Signs takes a regional approach to its research and reporting due to the regional approach that businesses exhibit and many other regional factors such as transportation. 

Moore said Monday’s meeting focused on postsecondary education and its importance because of the future of the business model and the need for qualified employees.

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce Research Center projects by 2020, 25 percent of jobs will need employees with at least a four-year college degree, compared to around 17 percent today.

The problem is 64 percent of adults 25-64 in Wilson County do not have a postsecondary degree, trailing Davidson, Rutherford and Williamson counties. This contributes to a projected deficit of 35,000 workers in the region by 2021, according to the NACCRS.

“Factories, stats and future indications show that there’s going to be a shift to a workforce that is educated,” Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead said, “and that’s why we’re looking for the best ways to incorporate here to encourage adults to get additional education.”

The meeting addressed several factors that contribute to adults not obtaining a postsecondary education and a degree, including the demand of college courses and most notable, college prices.

“Even if it’s just $180 for a textbook or something related to class, we find that people are having a hard time paying for that,” Moore said.

“Cost is a big factor influencing college education,” said Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto, “but with programs like Tennessee Promise, that’s becoming less of an issue.”

The Tennessee Promise was one of the programs highlighted Monday morning that show an effort by Tennessee officials to increase postsecondary education opportunities.

Tennessee Promise will provide high school students the opportunity to attend a community or technical college free of tuition and fees beginning in 2015. The program would cover student fees not covered by the Pell Grant, HOPE Scholarship or TSAA. 

Moore said there are several programs in Wilson County that are also working toward higher rates of postsecondary education and seeing results. These programs included dual enrollment courses in high schools, various mentoring programs and the Wilson County Adult High School, which had a record number of graduates this year. She said community leaders are vital to achieving increased levels of postsecondary education.

Hutto instructed people to reach out to his office to get organization’s employees engaged as mentors for Tennessee Promise. He also asked employers to be more proactive in advancing the education of its employees by connecting them with postsecondary opportunities available in the county and region.

“It was really great to see leaders from different spectrums come together for this,” said Moore, who said Wilson County is moving in the right direction when it comes to education. 

“There was a lot of input, and I’m thankful for the people who showed up and contributed. This was great.” Hutto said.

Guest to the event included Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright, Lebanon-Wilson County Chamber of Commerce President Sue Vanatta, Mt. Juliet-East Wilson County Chamber of Commerce President Mark Hinesley, Mike Krause with Tennessee Promise and Cumberland University business college dean Paul Stumb. 

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