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January 18, 2018

TRIO and TN Reconnect increase opportunities for higher education 

Heather Dawes
Grainger Today Reporter 

RUTLEDGE – There are many opportunities for Grainger County residents to attend college. Many adults let the fear of financial responsibility and student debt prevent them from bettering their lives. Sometimes it may even be the confusion of the application process for financial assistance and the applications to colleges that hold people back. Brandy Greene at Douglas Cherokee Education Opportunity Center is there to help Grainger, Claiborne and Hancock residents with these issues.  

Trying to tackle the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (F.A.F.S.A.) application process can be a deterrent to some. Programs such as TRIO Student Support Services Program are available to help with the application process and finding other qualifying programs for those wishing to attend college, so they do not find themselves in debt without a degree.  

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam recently expanded the TN Reconnect program to include more courses and schools. The goal is to have 55 percent of Tennessee residents achieve a degree. The goal of federal and state programs is to better the community by ensuring that a larger majority of residents hold college degrees. This is intended to improve the local and state economy, as well as improve future workforce development. 

Greene said, “Especially with TN Reconnect, it is one of the best times to go back to school. If you have ever thought about it, give us a call because now is a good time.”  

There are several programs in place that Tennessee residents could take advantage of, including the HOPE scholarship for recent (within the past 16 months) high school graduates, Tennessee Promise for high school seniors, Tennessee Student Assistance Award (a state grant that adults may qualify for) and the TN Reconnect program for adults. There are more options for seniors and recent graduates, but help for adult students is also available. 

Student loan debt is a concern not only for the debt holder but for the American economy right now. The average class of 2016 graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt. This is the cost for one year of higher education on average. It is important to ask the right questions and find the right scholarship programs that work best for each individual.  

It is also important to continue, once enrolled, and obtain a degree. More than 40 percent of households headed by young adults with some college are dealing with repayment of student loans. Without the increased earnings that usually come with a college degree, managing even just a few thousand dollars in loans can be a challenge.  

Greene can help with the starting or returning to school process, and anyone can receive assistance. She said, “If anyone in the community has questions about returning to college or technical school, I’m not going to turn them away.”   

In order to qualify for some programs, there are specific requirements and Greene is there to help determine the best program for a recipient. It is easy to miss out on an opportunity if an applicant is unaware of its existence. This is the best reason for potential students to ask questions. Resources are there to help residents that wish to obtain a degree and may have gotten lost from their path to higher education.  

The hardest part for some is determining their major course of study. According to Greene, it is the best place to start. “The best starting point is to pick a major and qualify that against the school that you may want to attend,” said Greene. She said she also wants to make people aware that when choosing between a technical school and a community college there are points to consider. Greene said, “If someone is trying to decide between the two, if a person goes to one and they do not like it, when they transfer, they may lose credits. A majority of community college credits will transfer to other community colleges and a four-year school, but technical school credits usually will not transfer to community college or four-year schools.”  

Returning to or beginning the path to higher education is something that requires diligent research. “TN reconnect is designed for the student that has attended a semester or two and life happened, or they never got the opportunity to go before. Now is the time to go back and finish because with TN Reconnect the most that will be coming out of pocket is books and supplies, and that’s only if you don’t qualify for any other aid.  A lot of people we have worked with have believed they would not qualify for any aid, yet they were able to get enough scholarships and grants to help cover books and supplies as well.  You won’t know unless you fill out the FAFSA and apply for the scholarships,” said Greene. 

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