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Community colleges struggle to meet high interest, demand of TN Reconnect program

Photo: FOX 17 News

Class is back in session at community colleges around the state, but officials say thousands couldn't attend Monday. The Tennessee Reconnect program received so many applicants that many were turned away from the free tuition program.

“I’ve been talking about going back to school for years,” said Kim Bare, a TN Reconnect student.

By day, Bare is a legal assistant. By night, she’s an online student at Volunteer State Community College, thanks to the Tennessee Reconnect program. After more than 30 years, she’s finally going to college to fulfill her dream of one day becoming a lawyer.

“I always wanted to go back. I enjoyed learning. I enjoy challenges. I couldn’t go," Bare said. "Then I got married had kids, moved and then everything fell in place."

Bare is one of thousands who jumped online and applied for the program that offers free tuition to Tennessee residents 25 years and older who have not received a college degree.

“I signed up for it I believe the first or second day you could sign up,” said Michael Austin, Bare’s son-in-law.

Austin signed up for the program first, followed by Bare, Bare’s husband and her daughter. All of them now attend Vol State through the Tennessee Reconnect program.

Unlike the Bare family, there are thousands that didn’t make it this semester.

Only 10,000 were expected to apply, but 31,000 expressed interest within weeks of the program opening.

Nashville State opened a Tennessee Reconnect café with the Nashville Chamber of Commerce to respond to the overwhelming number of students. The center is located on campus and serves as a resource center to assist students matriculating through the program.

“I have a busy day, so busy sometimes that I track of the time and realize it’s almost time to come home,” said Fred Frazier, Jr., TN Reconnect completion coach at Nashville State.

Nashville State expected to receive 500 applications. Instead, 3,200 people applied and that number is expected to grow. The increased interest has meant extra teachers, extra classes and extra resources to support the demand.

“We still have not completely adjusted. We are flying this plane while were building it in the air,” said Dr. Shanna Jackson, president of Nashville State.

Students like Doris Dryden said they are thankful to have somehow made it in the program.

“I am very grateful for that because a lot of people didn’t make it," Dryden said. "I hope the reconnect program can expand so more people can come in."

Volunteer State is also working to meet the demand. They are already accepting applications for the spring semester. If you would like to apply, visit https://www.tnreconnect.gov/

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