Upper Cumberland Adults Get Ready for Tuition-Free College with Vol State
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. Volunteer State Community College is encouraging adults in the Upper Cumberland to get ready now. The TN Reconnect application just 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 thirties, 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.”
George Shifflett of Portland knows those feelings well. He too came back to college in his thirties, attending 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 now has his own general practice law firm in Portland, specializing in family law and trial litigation.
“It’s not easy going to college,” he added. “But it’s absolutely do-able. 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 TN Reconnect at Vol State: apply to the college; fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA); and apply for TN Reconnect. There are eligibility requirements for TN Reconnect, with the most important being that 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 now 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.”
“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.
The college is hoping that people will talk to their friends and family about TN 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.”
Vol State has two locations in the Upper Cumberland: Vol State at Livingston and Vol State at the Cookeville Higher Education Campus (CHEC). For more information about TN Reconnect, including eligibility, visit www.volstate.edu/reconnect or call 615-230-3447.
Feature Photo: George Shifflett ran his own trucking company to make ends meet before going back to college. He is now a lawyer.
Melody Wilson has been working on her Vol State degree while raising a young son.
About Vol State
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 extends the college mission to the entire community. For more information, visit volstate.edu.