A group of employees from Jackson’s Books-A-Million retail store worked together to enroll in the fall 2018 semester at Jackson State. Coworkers Emily Allen and Eric Morris cited Tennessee Reconnect as the tipping point for the group to begin the enrollment process, and at least four coworkers plan to use it to further their education.
Tennessee Reconnect is a state-wide initiative that provides tuition-free education for an Associate’s degree or technical certificate to adult learners who are at least 24 years of age and have not previously earned a degree or certificate, among other eligibility requirements. Fall 2018 marked the official launch of Reconnect and saw soaring enrollment from eligible students; Jackson State saw a Reconnect-eligible student enrollment increase of almost 28%, more than 10% above the state-wide average.
Morris, an English major, said when he first heard about Reconnect, he thought it might be too good to be true. After a chance conversation with a customer–one who happened to be a professor at Jackson State–he realized he was potentially eligible to use Reconnect dollars to go to school, and he began encouraging his fellow employees to do the same. Besides the benefits of Reconnect and other types of aid, Allen, also an English major, says her decision to come back was part of a larger plan. “It’s a good stepping stone to move forward while staying close to home.”
The sudden adult population surge, fueled by Reconnect, brought a new layer of diversity to the Jackson State campus. Allen says she initially felt nervous about coming back to school with a population of students around high school age, but states that she has felt welcome in her classes. Associate English Professor Tony Rafalowski says he has noticed positive engagement in classes with more adult students. “It tends to elevate the room in terms of discussion and instruction.” Morris agreed, stating, “We are here for a purpose, and it changes the tone of the class.”
Allen says she is close to graduation and wants to go on to a four-year institution to become a writer. Morris, an aspiring English professor, says this opportunity has allowed him to receive a ripple effect of benefits that will carry over to his next institution. As a member of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), he may be eligible for PTK specific scholarships as well as institutional transfer scholarships. “You get this opportunity, and if you put work into it you can get scholarships to move on,” he says, adding that anyone can benefit from going back to finish a degree. “They’ve taken all the excuses away. If you’ve been thinking about going to school, just go for it.”
Go to www.jscc.edu/reconnect to learn more about TN Reconnect, including eligibility requirements and how to get started tuition-free today!