Good news from our higher education partners

by David Morgan, Lawrence County Executive

We can all see signs of growth in our community: New businesses and industries, new homes, new neighbors.

It is a leader’s job to help communities prepare for and benefit from growth, and many conversations are taking place about upcoming demands on our school system, roads, utilities, and housing market.

We are fortunate that leaders in the past did the same. Lawrence County was ready for industries that are building and expanding here now because 20 years ago, utilities were extended into what was then a hay field.  A spec building constructed there was on the market for a long time, but helped Craig Manufacturing officials decide to open their U.S. headquarters here.

About 40 years ago this community chose to focus on education as a key to economic improvement. That led to construction of a local branch of Columbia State and development of the Lawrence County Education Foundation.

More recently, our community partnered with the state of Tennessee to provide residents the opportunity to earn a four-year degree at home. The Southern Tennessee Higher Education Center (STHEC) was built to house Columbia State and junior- and senior-level classes from other schools. Two months after STHEC opened, Pulaski’s Martin Methodist College officially became part of the University of Tennessee system as UT Southern. Some might call that luck. I call it providence.

Last week I attended a meeting of the Lawrence County Higher Education Commission and heard a lot of exciting news from our three STHEC partners: Columbia State, Tennessee Tech University, and UT Southern.

MBA:  Approximately half of the classes in UT Southern’s Master of Business Administration program are held at STHEC. These classes are held in the evening to accommodate working students. In addition to those who attend in person, several join remotely from UT Knoxville and even other states.

– MBA instructor Dr. Lorie Jones is working with a team from UT Martin to provide professional development courses at local industries. Those participating have seen production increase as a result.

EDUCATION: Tennessee’s Grow Your Own (GYO) program is creating opportunities for individuals and easing teacher shortages. Assistants working for local schools enter UT Southern’s program with an Associate degree and earn their Bachelors (and teacher licensure) without leaving their jobs. UT Southern offers a variety of in-person, online, and hybrid classes to fit student schedules. Fifty are currently enrolled; the majority are from Lawrence County.

– Columbia State offers Associate degrees in Early Childhood; Elementary; Secondary English, Math, and Social Studies; and Special Education. These are designed for transfer to four-year universities, and more Columbia State education majors are choosing to complete their studies at UT Southern. 

– UT Southern now offers two different teacher licensures in Special Education, where the greatest shortages exist.

– Initiatives across the UT system, including UT Southern, are training teachers in rural areas in chemistry, physics, and biology updates.

TTU: Tennessee Tech University offers junior- and senior-level classes in Interdisciplinary Studies with an emphasis on Workplace Leadership and Human Behavior. That program continues to have steady enrollment and is integrating more professional studies and project management courses into the class rotation. TTU is also working to offer certification programs that local industries need.

NEW CLASSES & PROGRAMS: UT Southern now offers Computer Information Systems and Cyber Security programs. The first Wildlife Enforcement class is underway, part of the school’s Criminal Justice program. Columbia State has been approved to offer Logistics and Transportation programs.

IN THE WORKS: UT’s Health Science Center in Memphis is developing new health professional licensure and certificate programs throughout the UT system. UT Southern and the UT Ag Institute are working to begin offering agriculture certificate programs. An Engineering Technology degree would be a partnership between community college and the Tennessee College of Applied Science (TCAT). Masters of Education, Building Sciences and Construction Management programs are being considered for UT Southern.

ENROLLMENT:  The number of Lawrence County’s graduating seniors who have registered for CSCC’s 2024 summer and fall classes is more than double the number seen at this time of year in the not-so-distant past.

– CSCC’s demographic is changing, at least locally. Thanks in part to the STHEC facility, younger students are attending and often spending the day on campus. Officials are finding ways to bring food vendors there for students who need on-campus lunch options.

– UT Southern enrollment has grown by 20% since the school became part of the UT system and 1,050-1,100 students are expected this fall. Predictions have that number at 2,500 by 2030. Recruitment efforts are taking place in North Alabama; right now the school’s biggest feeder counties are Giles, Lawrence, Maury, Lincoln, and Marshall.

– The more UT Southern’s enrollment grows, the more programs and classes the school will bring to STHEC.

 Read MoreLawrence County TN, Government

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