Tennessee Tech students organize first-ever conference to reach out to community colleges

Student government leaders at Tennessee Tech University recently hosted a first-of-its-kind panel discussion with student government presidents of community colleges across the state in an effort to strengthen ties between the different institutions during difficult times for higher education in Tennessee.

As higher education in Tennessee continues to face tough budgetary issues, it is important for community colleges and four-year universities to form alliances and work together to ensure all students wanting a post-secondary education can get a quality one, said Nathan Tudor, a junior at TTU with a double major in political science and history, and an organizer of the recent panel discussion

"A lot of the problems we face at Tennessee Tech, such as with state funding, are the same kind of problems that community colleges are facing, he said.

"The state will be focusing on community colleges to continue to improve education in our state and we at TTU want to extend a hand to our friends at the community colleges," he added. "Tennessee Tech wants to be a leader in the state in this effort."

Tudor, of Cookeville, who is also TTU's first student to be appointed to serve on the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, sees it as his duty to listen to the concerns community colleges have.

"I want to relay these issues back to THEC and hopefully we can all work together to understand what we need to do," he said.

Student government presidents from seven community colleges attended the panel discussion, coming from as far as Jackson in West Tennessee to Knoxville in East Tennessee.

"I don't know if a discussion like this has been done before," said Wayne Blaylock, TTU's Student Government Association President and a chemical engineering major from Crossville. "We at TTU want to take the lead. Other schools look to us as an example."

One area that the student leaders from the community colleges repeatedly expressed frustration and concerns about was the process of transferring certain classes from their two-year school to a four-year school for credit, said Blaylock and Tudor.

Currently, the Tennessee Board of Regents is in the process of implementing a unified numerical system for core classes at community colleges and universities, explained TTU Vice President and Provost Marv Barker.

"TBR has mandated we renumber 32 hours of core classes so that these classes will have the same number at each TBR institution and will easily transfer from a community college to a university," he said.

For example, English 211 at Tennessee Tech, a basic sophomore class, is currently equivalent to English 203 at Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin. When the renumbering is completed, the two classes, which essentially cover the same exercises in literature and composition, will have the same number, making transferring the class from Vol State to TTU much easier, Barker explained.

"The renumbering idea is one intended to benefit the student by providing better articulation (transfers) between the community colleges and the four-year institutions. We want to enhance transferability of the core curriculum, remove barriers to transferring and improve communication between institutions," he added.

Increasing enrollment at TTU is also one of the university's major goals, Blaylock noted. By the year 2005, TTU administrators hope to see enrollment move from approximately 8,400 today to 10,000. Students transferring from community colleges can help Tennessee Tech meet this goal, he said.

"Right now, only about 10 percent of those who graduate from community colleges move on to a four-year university. We need to try to find ways to get more than just that 10 percent for those who want it. That may mean making transfers easier, maybe even providing childcare for those who need it," Blaylock said.

More than anything, however, Tudor and Blaylock agreed, is that by opening up a dialogue between community colleges and four-year universities, Tennessee Tech is taking the lead in addressing major concerns facing higher education.

"It is going to take changes about both the community colleges and the four-year universities to ensure students receive quality educations," Blaylock said.