Emily House has served as the Executive Director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation since January 2021. Prior to assuming this role, she served as the agency’s Deputy Executive Director and Interim Executive Director.
Emily formerly led the THEC/TSAC Research and Planning team and College Access teams as the Chief Research and Policy Officer. In this capacity, she developed and executed the State of Tennessee’s higher education research agenda, and worked with executive and legislative leaders to design, implement, and evaluate higher education initiatives including Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect.
Previously, Emily served as a Teach for America corps member, and currently teaches Statistics and Research Design courses to doctoral students at East Tennessee State University and Vanderbilt University.
A native of Rochester, New York, House earned her Bachelor’s degree at Cornell University, her master’s of Public Policy at Vanderbilt University, and Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Michigan. She is a graduate of the Tennessee Government Executive Institute, and is the recipient of the inaugural THEC Presidential Fellowship.
Chief of Staff
Lou Hanemann currently serves as the Chief of Staff for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. In this capacity, he provides leadership and operation support for the Executive Director, assists in the development and communication of strategic policies, and the management of special higher education initiatives. In addition to his duties as Chief of Staff, Lou coordinates the government relations work with the Tennessee General Assembly, Administration, and other state agencies. Having served as the public policy liaison for the University of Tennessee System and similar roles with the Tennessee Board of Regents, Lou has extensive working relationships with members of the Tennessee General Assembly, the Administration, campuses and other state and national higher education stakeholders on issues that impact higher education public policy. He has Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Administration from Middle Tennessee State University and a Master’s in Business Data Analytics from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Chief Aid and Compliance Officer
Peter Abernathy oversees THEC/TSAC’s legal and compliance division, which includes THEC/TSAC’s contracts, legislative affairs, rulemaking, and oversight of institutional compliance with the state’s grant and scholarship programs. Peter also provides assistance in coordinating the management of THEC/TSAC’s loan, outreach, and grant and scholarship divisions.
Before joining THEC/TSAC in 2008, Abernathy worked in the Department of Finance and Administration’s Budget Division for 12 years as the coordinator of K-12 and Higher Education’s budgets. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Tennessee, a master’s in public administration from North Carolina State University, and a J.D. from the Nashville School of Law.
Chief Financial Officer
Jason Cavender oversees the THEC/TSAC’s Division of Business and Finance, including accounting, human resources and information technology functions. Financial management responsibilities for the THEC/TSAC combined budget is over $400 million and includes funds for general operating expenses and the Tennessee Lottery for Education program. In addition to these responsibilities, he serves as the liaison between the higher education governing boards and the legislature regarding any legislation having a financial impact in Tennessee.
Prior to coming to THEC/TSAC in 2004, Jason worked in the Department of Finance and Administration’s Budget Division for six years as the K-12 and Higher Education analyst. He earned a B.S. in History from Austin Peay State University and a M.Ed. from Tennessee State University.
Chief Policy Officer
Steven Gentile serves as the Chief Policy Officer and oversees the Bureau of Policy, Planning and Research. The Bureau, comprising the Research and Strategy Division and the Fiscal Policy Division, is charged with researching and developing policies and practices that make earning a higher education credential more attainable. The Bureau is also responsible for developing the state’s higher education appropriation request, completing all statutory reports, and supporting other divisions with data analyses and program evaluations.
Prior to joining THEC, Steven served as Assistant Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Davidson College in North Carolina. He moved to Nashville in 2012 and shortly after started as a graduate assistant in the Policy, Planning and Research division before starting a full-time position as Assistant Director of Fiscal Policy for THEC in 2013.
A native of Cullowhee, North Carolina, Steven earned his Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Davidson College, his master’s of Higher Education Administration from Vanderbilt University, and his Doctorate of Education from Vanderbilt University.
Chief Access and Outreach Officer
Samantha Gutter serves as the Chief Access and Outreach Officer at the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and oversees the access and outreach bureau, including adult learner initiatives, college access and success programs, and statewide outreach services.
Sam formerly served as Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives and Postsecondary Impact at the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) where she provided leadership and direction for implementing SCORE’s postsecondary education policy advocacy strategy.
Sam previously served as education policy advisor for Governor Bill Haslam where she supported the development of the governor’s policy agenda. In 2017, she led the legislative effort to enact the Tennessee Reconnect Act, which allows nearly all Tennessee adults to attend a community or technical college tuition-free. Sam began her career as an elementary school teacher in Metro Nashville Public Schools as a Teach For America corps member before joining THEC/TSAC as a graduate assistant on the GEAR UP TN team and as a program analyst on the adult learner initiatives team. Originally from Alabama, Sam has a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Auburn University and a master’s degree in higher education administration with a focus in public policy from Vanderbilt University.
Betty Dandridge Johnson
Chief Academic Officer
Betty Dandridge Johnson oversees the Bureau of Academic Affairs and Student Success. The Bureau promotes the development and operations of quality academic programs, student support services, and resource alignment for all students with an increased emphasis on veterans and students attending historically black colleges and universities. Other responsibilities include the development and evaluation of the Quality Assurance Funding program and implementation of grant projects to support teacher education programs and student success. The Bureau of Academic Affairs and Student Success also works closely with the Department of Education to align K-12 with higher education.
Prior to joining THEC, Betty served as the Institutional Effectiveness Officer at Middle Tennessee State University and was responsible for university-wide assessment and effectiveness of academic programs and administrative units. Her other higher education experience includes the University of Kentucky Community College System, Tennessee Board of Regents and Meharry Medical College. Betty holds a B.A. from Grinnell College and an M.S. from Vanderbilt University.
Scott Sloan is the General Counsel for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. He is responsible for managing the agency’s legal and contracting functions, external affairs, and communications. Scott also represents THEC to the Tennessee General Assembly during the legislative session. In his time at the agency, he has collaborated closely with the legislature and other stakeholders in developing several key higher education initiatives. He assisted on the 2013 development of the Labor and Education Alignment Program (LEAP) as well as the 2014 passage of the Tennessee Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Act.
Before coming to THEC in 2012, he was the Director of Policy and Research for the Tennessee Secretary of State’s Office. Prior to that position, he was appointed by Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey to serve as the Chief Engrossing Clerk of the Tennessee Senate. In this role, he was an officer of the Senate, enrolled legislation for signature into law, and published the annual Senate Journal. Scott is a licensed attorney and graduate of both Western Kentucky University and the Nashville School of Law.