Tennessee Reconnect students took more classes last year and passed them at higher rates than comparable students who were not part of the program.
That’s according to a new analysis looking at the inaugural year of Tennessee Reconnect, a free-tuition program for adult learners. The College System of Tennessee found that, on average, Reconnect students earned one credit hour more than non-Reconnect adult students.
These early results indicate that the state is having some new success in bringing adults back to school to finish out a higher degree.
Community college administrators attribute the success to a few factors. For one, the program requires at least two classes a semester, which encourages students to stay focused. For another, Reconnect also led to a culture shift in higher education, forcing schools to serve more non-traditional students, says TBR policy director Amy Moreland.
“The community colleges across the state worked really hard to create flexible scheduling options for Reconnect students who were returning to college,” she said.
With the new accommodations — additional online classes, more evening options — colleges saw an 18 percent increase in adult enrollment last fall.
But early data also indicates this may have been a one-time surge. At several community colleges, including Motlow State, Vol State and Nashville State, the number of new adults signing up for Reconnect this fall was much lower than the numbers last year.
TBR executive vice chancellor Russ Deaton said the decrease isn’t surprising.
“There was that pent-up demand that got released with Reconnect” among adult students who were waiting for the right opportunity to go back to school, he said.
But he says the system is encouraging community colleges to keep reaching out to adults, especially those who may not have heard about the program yet.