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2013 February 4 - 12:00 am

POLITICS and POLICY: Tenn. Governor Announces Ambitious Education Goal

LEBANON, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam announced that he wants to put Tennessee on a path toward boosting college graduation rates by 23 percentage points by the year 2025.

Haslam said the state’s current rate of 32 percent of adults holding a post-secondary degree is not enough to meet the requirements of the modern job market. The Republican governor said he wants to improve that number to 55 percent over the next dozen years.

“It is an ambitious goal, but if we’re going to compete we’re going to have to do that,” Haslam told reporters after speaking to a Boy Scouts group in Wilson County. “I’ve always said college is not for everybody, but it has to be for more Tennesseans than it has in the past.

“And if 60 percent of the new jobs that are being created are going to require a degree, then we need to have a population that mirrors that,” he said.

Haslam appointed Randy Boyd, chairman of Knoxville-based wireless pet fence maker Radio Systems Corp., to become his top higher education adviser.

Boyd will join a working group tasked with finding ways to tackle what the governor called the “iron triangle” of affordability, access and quality issues for public colleges and universities in Tennessee.

“Is the path we’re on now going to get us there?” Haslam said. “The answer is no.”

The panel is made up of the governor and the head of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, the chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents and the president of the University of Tennessee.

Boyd, 53, will work for the administration full-time but has volunteered to work without pay.

In 2009, Boyd co-founded the tnAchieves, a non-profit mentoring and scholarship organization that has paid the full community college tuition of more than 3,200 high school graduates. Sixty-eight percent of those students have been the first in their families to attend college.

“I am passionate about improving educational opportunity for all our citizens,” Boyd said in a release. “To achieve the governor’s mission, we will need to broaden the net and to provide greater access.”

Boyd founded Radio Systems in 1991. The privately-held company makes technology-based pet products like PetSafe and Invisible Fence.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, praised Haslam’s ambition for higher education, particularly to help address the staffing needs of large employers like Volkswagen.

“One of their big concerns is a workforce that is trained or trainable for the kind of high-tech work they need done,” McCormick said.

“Those numbers are lofty, no doubt, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aim for them and try to find a way to get there,” he said.

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