New report outlines barriers and best practices for Middle Tennessee adults to complete their education

A new report outlines the barriers and best practices for encouraging Middle Tennessee adults to complete their educations through a college degree or high-level career credential.

The Middle Tennessee Reconnect Employer Survey, which is based on results from more than 8,000 employees from 12 large Middle Tennessee employers, provides the state’s first broad-based examination of patterns and issues present in the regional workforce relating to continuing with higher education. The Middle Tennessee Reconnect Community, an initiative of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, is a regional organization dedicated to supporting every adult in the area who aspires to earn a college degree.

These new findings come at a time when Gov. Bill Haslam has made access to continuing education a top priority. The survey’s key findings align with the thinking behind Haslam’s recently introduced Tennessee Reconnect Act, which would expand the Tennessee Promise scholarship model to allow adults to attend community college tuition-free.

“Tuition and fees were listed as a barrier by at least 81 percent of respondents for each education level,” said Laura Ward, director of the Middle Tennessee Reconnect Community. “Cost is by far the top barrier for Middle Tennesseans considering continuing their educations. The governor’s proposal could go a long way in alleviating the concerns of many residents who understand the benefits of going back to school but aren’t able to because they can’t afford it.”

The Middle Tennessee Reconnect Employer Survey and Employer Toolkit are intended to serve as guides for employers who want to create a workplace that supports employees’ earning a degree or credential, while also creating a pipeline of qualified and experienced people to fill positions. The Middle Tennessee Reconnect Community aims to support employees as they advance their skills by completing a degree or high-level career credential.

Other key findings include:

Employer participation is a key component in creating innovative policies related to education attainment in Middle Tennessee.

The findings show that employers who support educational attainment can transform the lives of their employees and realize significant return on investment for every dollar invested in education. Employers who responded said they began to see a return on investment almost immediately because employees were able to bring their new knowledge and skills into the workplace.

“We’ve found that employees who pursue education while working at TDOT not only appreciate the support, they put their newfound knowledge to work, making the department even stronger,” said Ryan Simpson, education manager at the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT).

With a substantial number of baby boomers in the workforce approaching retirement age, it is increasingly important for employers to focus greater attention on the generational composition of the current workforce.

“Worker replacement for retirees will remain a critical workforce issue in Middle Tennessee, and elsewhere, in the coming years,” Ward said. “To prepare the current workforce for future needs, the region must focus attention to quickly elevating the educational and skills levels of younger workers.”

The Middle Tennessee Reconnect Community can help address the concerns brought forth in this study in the following ways:

• Training supervisors about techniques to support adults in the workplace who want to return to school;

• Providing sample policies and guidance to employers who want to implement innovative policies that support employees’ returning to school, including flex time, mentoring and employer reimbursement;

• Setting up on-site advisement to provide guidance in a location convenient for the workforce;

• Connecting employers with others in the region, and around the nation, that have created a workplace environment to support adults’ returning to school to share best practices; and

• Providing lunch-hour seminars related to education, balancing priorities to return to school, financing education and much more.

For more information about Middle Tennessee Reconnect, please visit or contact Laura Ward, Director, Middle Tennessee Reconnect Community, at



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