Haslam Signs FOCUS Act Centered on Student and College Success

Wednesday, June 08, 2016 | 09:39am

FOCUS Act Aligns Structure of Tennessee Higher Education to Meet Drive to 55 Goal

COOKEVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today signed the Focus On College and University Success (FOCUS) Act at a ceremony on the campus of Tennessee Technological University. The legislation organizes and empowers Tennessee’s public colleges and universities to increase student success and the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary credential.

“Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect have been successful in increasing access to higher education, but we also must ensure our colleges and universities are supported in their efforts to create student success. The FOCUS Act is the next step in helping us reach the Drive to 55 goal,” Haslam said, noting that as a result of Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect, first-time freshmen enrollment has increased 25 percent at community colleges and 20 percent at Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs).

The governor was joined for the bill signing by Dr. Philip Oldham, president of Tennessee Tech, and Rep. Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville), the bill’s House sponsor.

The FOCUS Act, SB2569/HB2578, provides more focused support by the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) for Tennessee’s 13 community and 27 technical colleges; creates local boards for the six public universities currently within TBR (Austin Peay State University, East Tennessee State University, Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee State University, Tennessee Technological University and the University of Memphis); and strengthens the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

When TBR was formed in 1972, it had 60,000 students. Today Tennessee is approaching 200,000 students in the system.

The governor will make the university board appointments later this year and, upon confirmation by the General Assembly, board members will undergo orientation and professional development. Boards assume responsibility upon the first called meeting by the governor.

The General Assembly passed the FOCUS Act last session. Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville) carried the legislation in the Senate.

About the Drive to 55
In 2013, Governor Haslam launched the Drive to 55 to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2025. As a result, the Drive to 55 has established the Tennessee Promise program, the nation’s first scholarship and mentorship program that provides high school graduates last-dollar scholarships to attend two years of community or technical college free of tuition and fees; reduced the number of college freshmen requiring remediation through the SAILS (Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support) program; provided free technical college for adults through TCAT Reconnect Grants; created Tennessee Reconnect + Complete to help more adults return to college to complete unfinished degrees; developed a more comprehensive state approach to serving student veterans; and leveraged technology to enhance classroom instruction and college advising.