Let me say right out of the gate that I am from Tennessee and live just an hour from the state line in Robbinsville. For North Carolina and Tennessee to be neighboring and southern, the cultural differences are enormous.
In “Innocents Abroad,” Mark Twain said: “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
So I decided immediately that I needed to compartmentalize by putting Tennessee in its box so I could open a new box of learning all-things North Carolina.
As an employee of Southwestern Community College, I was fortunate to attend and participate in one of myFutureNC’s listening tours across the state in Cherokee and was thrilled to see such a proactive movement for education. During that visit, I also met the EducationNC team during their Attain the Dream event. Imagine my excitement when Nation Hahn’s October 22nd edition of Awake58 newsletter featured information about the Tennessee Promise and the Drive to 55.
Under Tennessee Promise, community and technical colleges are free. WHAT? You heard me – FREE. The Drive to 55 is the governor’s challenge to the state: the drive to get 55 percent of Tennesseans equipped with a college certificate or degree by the year 2025, positioning it as not just a mission for higher education, but a mission for the state’s future workforce and economic development.
Having lived and worked in North Carolina for a year now, I believe the significant difference between NC and TN in terms of education is in the culture of value placed on education. Now, please don’t start throwing tomatoes at me. I don’t make this statement lightly, but in a completely factual way coming from my observations and experiences.
How can we become change agents for valuing education? How can we encourage the mindset to go from “I didn’t need college; you don’t need it either,” to “I didn’t go to college, but you have the chance to.”
The best way I know how to make my point is to tell you about some of the differences between systems in Tennessee and North Carolina, but this will include all education — not just college. Here are some of the ways Tennessee places value on education. As a state employee, I received a free class each semester from a state college of my choosing. This did not have to relate to my job. In this way, Tennessee encourages its employees to be lifelong learners. At the end of the day, isn’t that what we want people to embrace?
Once I became an employee of SCC, imagine my surprise to learn that I could only take a class if it was approved and directly related to my job. The bigger surprise was in learning that NC state employees do not receive educational discounts for their children. This goes a long way toward showing what is valued and what isn’t. In Tennessee, the child of any state employee is eligible to attend a public state college with a tuition discount of 25 percent. Admittedly, I was shocked to learn that is not the case in North Carolina and there are no discounts for children of state employees.
For education to be valued, the message must come from every direction and especially from the top down. We must seize every opportunity to incorporate educational possibilities into the lives of North Carolinians. While North Carolina does have a dependent scholarship fund, the employee must work three years before their child becomes eligible and scholarships depends upon fund availability.
Now if we are really concerned about the state of education, we must dig deeper into the roots and look at children who do not finish high school. Tennessee counties drive, and drive hard, to have 100 percent graduation rates. So much so that in the age of home schooling, there is an accountability system in place so that when a parent withdraws their children under the notion of home schooling, attendance records and progress reports are required of parents and all home school students must take the required standardized tests along with their public-schooled peers.
North Carolina has similar rules and requirements in place, but they are not enforced. I can not only speak to this from personal experience, but will go so far as to say that counties like to play the numbers game with the lives of students. If students are counted as home schooled, the district continues to receive money. That’s another soap box for another day.
I promise I’m not that person that constantly says, “where I come from….” Nobody wants to hear that, and I don’t want to be that. But what I do want is to encourage and support people to learn and to promote systems that will help us to achieve these goals. We must show from every possible angle that education, in any form, adds value to our lives, to our communities, to our workforce, and to society as a whole. Let us look at the states and systems around us to put best practices into use. Nobody ever regretted improving their life from education.