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VOL. 132 | NO. 122 | Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Boyd Talks Gaps In Higher Ed During Whitehaven Stop

By Bill Dries

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Randy Boyd, Republican contender for governor, says there is a gap in higher education efforts that should be filled by more satellite campuses for community colleges, including Southwest Tennessee Community College, as well as better marketing to compete with for-profit trade schools. (Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

Republican contender for governor Randy Boyd says there is a gap in the state’s Tennessee Promise plan and its reality.

“You can tell the kid, ‘Good news, you can go for free,’” Boyd said last week in Whitehaven of the program that offers two years of free state community college for all Tennessee high school graduates. “But the bad news is there is no school to go to.”

Boyd said there should be more satellite campuses like the Southwest Tennessee Community College location in Whitehaven that he stopped at Thursday, June 15, as he was in town for a later fundraiser in his campaign for governor.

Boyd met with a group of 30 recently graduated high school seniors from across the city who are taking part in a summer academy at SWTCC to take remedial classes and prepare for starting college in August.

He and his wife funded the academy as a way to help students who can get two years of college but in too many cases then fail to complete their work toward a two-year degree or certificate, much less move on to another college for a four-year degree.

In the state’s transformation of higher education, community colleges are now governed exclusively by the Tennessee Board of Regents and play a greater role in the state’s “Drive to 55” – an effort also spearheaded by Boyd during his time in the administration of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam – to meet a goal of 55 percent of all Tennesseans having a college degree or certificate of some kind.

Across Tennessee, 80 percent of all students who earn associate degrees or technical certificates in two years earn them at a public community college or institution. But in Shelby County that is flipped. It’s about 20 percent, with 80 percent of students getting their certification from for-profit technical schools that advertise heavily.

Boyd says the “aggressive marketing” is a factor.

“We’ve got to do a better job of marketing. You can build all of these facilities and make all of these programs possible,” he said. “But if the kids don’t know about these career paths – that they can get great jobs within a fairly short period of time – we’re still not going to be successful as a state, as educational providers at the high school and at the technical college level.”

Boyd says the state needs more programs – privately funded – that work toward filling gaps that can become barriers to completing college. And despite the recent graduations of the first classes of Tennessee Promise scholars at state community colleges that show a low completion rate, Boyd says the program has been a “spectacular success.”

“I know there was a report that said a relatively small number had graduated in the first class,” he said. “The program is a five-semester program and they are seeing how many graduated in four semesters. Some do graduate quickly and early but not that many. … I think we’re doing well.”

Boyd’s role as the architect of Drive to 55 and Tennessee Promise, as well as his time as state commissioner of Economic and Community Development, are his calling card in the race for the Republican nomination on the 2018 ballot. It leaves the distinct impression that Boyd is running as the successor to Haslam, although Haslam said last week he will not be getting involved in the Republican primary.

“I am an interested observer like everyone else,” Haslam told the Associated Press last week. “I do not have a favorite.”

Boyd didn’t make a political appeal to the students he talked to Thursday in Whitehaven. He talked instead about creating his business of invisible fences for containing pets and livestock.

A student asked if he still worked at the job.

“I’m actually looking for a new job myself. I’m currently unemployed,” Boyd answered. “I just applied for a new job in Nashville. To get the job you have to do 6.6 million interviews.”

With that, he made it clear he is running for governor and encouraged those who are 18 to register to vote.

Boyd has competition for the Republican nomination from Franklin businessman Bill Lee, who has matched Boyd on holding an opening fundraiser that netted more than $1 million, and Mount Juliet state Sen. Mae Beavers. Potential GOP contenders weighing the race including U.S. Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin and state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville.

Norris is reportedly being vetted for a possible presidential appointment as a federal court judge. Norris hasn’t commented on the reports or the future of his candidacy since those reports surfaced.

Asked about Lee’s recent fundraiser in Nashville hosted by Christian music artist Michael W. Smith, Boyd did what most contenders in the statewide race do in the early stages of a contested primary when they are trying to establish an identity with voters.

“I really don’t know how he’s doing versus how we are doing,” Boyd said. “We’re just focusing on ourself.”

Eight years ago, Haslam was saying much the same thing in what ultimately became a three-way skirmish to primary election day with U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.

“It’s a physically grueling process that has a certain personal vulnerability to it that takes most people awhile to get used to,” Haslam said of the experience last week.

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