Tennessee’s Veterans Education Initiatives Win STAR Award at Southern Legislative Conference
Statewide focus on veterans education highlighted at country’s largest regional gathering of legislators
BILOXI, Miss. – August 2 – Tennessee’s efforts to increase educational attainment among veterans were recognized with a State Transformation in Action Recognition (STAR) Award during the Southern Legislative Conference’s (SLC) annual meeting in Biloxi, Miss.
The annual SLC meeting convenes policymakers from 15 states and is the largest regional gathering of state legislators in the country.
The Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) presented on the veterans education initiatives to a panel of judges on Tuesday afternoon and was announced as a winner on Tuesday evening. Tennessee was one of five state finalists for the STAR award, which honors two state programs that have created transformative policies. THEC’s presentation highlighted the innovative work happening in the Volunteer State to support student veterans and increase educational attainment to sustain growth in the state’s economy.
“Through the leadership of the General Assembly and the Governor and through the commitment of our state’s colleges and universities, Tennessee is now a better place for veterans to enroll in higher education,” said THEC Executive Director Mike Krause. “Veterans voiced their needs when returning to higher education, and we worked together to create solutions that recognize their military training, help them earn a degree, and transition them into solid jobs in Tennessee.”
In the past three years, Tennessee has implemented a number of new policies to support veterans returning to higher education. In 2014, the Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Act, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and House Speaker Pro Tempore Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville), established in-state tuition for all veterans and created the VETS Campus designation to recognize higher education institutions supporting student veterans. The VETS Act was updated in 2015 to further expand tuition benefits and make it easier for veterans to earn academic credit for prior military training. In 2017, Public Chapter 31 was passed to develop a groundbreaking web tool for veterans to use to plan out academic credit for their military training at all public institutions in the state.
Each year, over 10,000 veterans enroll at Tennessee’s higher education institutions. According to the 2014-15 American Community Survey, about 267,000 veterans live in Tennessee, and approximately two-thirds of them have less than an associate degree. Veterans are considered non-traditional learners and have also been part of Governor Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative, including Tennessee Reconnect. Since 2015, there have been three rounds of funding for institutions, totaling nearly $3 million, to focus on providing services and resources for student veterans through the Veteran Reconnect grant program.
During the SLC annual meeting, Tennessee’s Drive to 55 efforts were also recognized. Krause presented at the Economic Development, Transportation and Cultural Affairs Committee session on Tennessee’s efforts toward the Drive to 55, Governor Bill Haslam’s initiative to move the state’s postsecondary educational attainment rate to 55 percent by the year 2025.
About the Tennessee Higher Education Commission
The Tennessee Higher Education Commission was created in 1967 by the Tennessee General Assembly. The Commission develops, implements, and evaluates postsecondary education policies and programs in Tennessee while coordinating the state’s systems of higher education, and is relentlessly focused on increasing the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary credential.