Colleges, universities embracing "Drive to 55" initiative

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.(WVLT) -- After 40 years away from school, Sheila Hayden is back. She's working towards an associates degree in business administration at Pellissippi State Community College.

"I lost my husband to cancer, I was displaced from my job and being the age that I am, I had to figure out exactly what is it that I need to do to be in the field that I really want to be in and be in it effectively," said Hayden.

She made the decision to get a college degree. Right now, only 32 percent of Tennesseans have a technical certificate or two or four year diploma. Governor Bill Haslam is hoping to get that number up to 55 percent. He's partnered with Western Governors University to help do just that. It's a low-cost, non-profit online university.

"Most of them are in their late 30s to 40s and have been out of school for some time. And because we provide our education in an online environment, they're able to access it late in the evening or on weekends while they're also trying to balance full-time work and school," said Dr. Kimberly Estep, chancellor of WGU Tennessee.

"Drive to 55" focuses on traditional college students too, as well as high schoolers considering their future - everyone plays a part in creating a skilled workforce. It's something Pellissippi State knows well.

"We're partnering with Knox County high schools to give kids an opportunity to earn college credit or post-secondary credit while they're still in high school. We're continuing to serve our working adult population with special evening programs to allow as many folks as possible to get on that pathway towards a certificate or degree," said Dr. Anthony Wise, president of Pellissippi State Community College.

"Take advantage of the education - it's going to pay off," said Hayden.


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