Adults get ready for college tuition-free at Vol State

Staff Reports • Updated Mar 8, 2018 at 5:00 PM

Tennessee Reconnect is a unique opportunity for adults who don’t have a college degree to earn one tuition-free. 

The program starts in August with the fall semester, and Volunteer State Community College encourages Tennesseans to get ready. The Tennessee Reconnect application recently became available.

“We expect quite a number of folks to take advantage of this opportunity,” said Vol State president Jerry Faulkner. “Starting now helps to make sure you have a cushion of time in the process.”

While free-tuition college classes might solve money issues for adult students, it doesn’t address all of the challenges they may face. Faulkner knows from experience. He returned to college in East Tennessee in his 30s, after a poor start in higher education earlier in life.

“I was afraid I couldn’t perform academically,” he said. “There was fear about fitting into a classroom of 18 and 19 year olds. You have to be brave enough to take that first step.”

“One of the biggest things for me was learning to work on the computer for school. The other students helped me get up to speed. After a week or two, I knew where everything was online and what to do with assignments,” said adult student Travis Mays, of Mt. Juliet.

George Shifflett, of Portland, knows those feelings well. He too came back to college in his 30s and attended Vol State.

“I wanted to take care of my family,” Shifflett said. “That was my motivator. I was working all of these jobs and not making much money. I had a wife and two daughters. I told people at Vol State that I wanted to go to law school. It may have seemed like a pipe dream.”

It wasn’t. Shifflett currently has his own general practice law firm in Portland and specializes in family law and trial litigation.

“It’s not easy going to college,” he said. “But it’s absolutely doable. I’m not the only one – there are many more like me. You just have to keep at it. I’m able to do things now for my family that I could never have done back then.”

There are three primary steps to take part in Tennessee Reconnect at Vol State. Apply to the college; fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid; and apply for Tennessee Reconnect. There are eligibility requirements for Tennessee Reconnect, but the most important is a student cannot already have an associate or bachelor’s degree. The other requirements are listed on the Vol State website. All of those steps can be accomplished by visiting the Vol State website.

Vol State has academic support programs to get students up to speed in math and English skills. Faculty and staff members are also experienced in working with adult students. The college has a number of delivery methods for classes, including day, evening, Saturday, and online classes. That provides great flexibility for working students.

“I make sure to keep on schedule,” said adult student Melody Wilson. “I set aside time to study at night after my son has gone to bed or in the morning, before he wakes up. It’s important to stay ahead on assignments so you never get behind. As a single mom I know this is the only way to ensure a good future for me and my son.”

College officials hope people will talk to their friends and family about Tennessee Reconnect. Employers are also encouraged to discuss it with workers. The outreach campaign is underway statewide. Tennessee is the first state in the nation to offer free community and technical college tuition for adult students, and for graduating high school students.

“It’s never too late to make a change,” said Faulkner. “It’s never too late to fulfill that dream you may have had for years.”

To apply for Tennessee Reconnect at Vol State, and view complete eligibility requirements, visit volstate.edu/reconnect. People with questions may call 615-230-3447.

Volunteer State Community College has more than 90 areas of study and offers two-year degrees, certificates and paths to university transfer. Continuing education and workforce development extend the college mission to the entire community. For more information, visit volstate.edu.

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