Oct 09, 2015



COOKEVILLE – The Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) has awarded $200,000 in one of three Reconnect Community grants to the Upper Cumberland Region of Tennessee to establish a community center to serve the needs of adults interested in completing a postsecondary education credential. The center will engage higher education institutions, local government, local employers, community organizations, and adult learners alike. The center will also provide adults with free advising, career counseling, support, a personalized path to and through college, and connect the said stakeholders in larger statewide degree-attainment efforts.

The lead organization for the Upper Cumberland region is the Highlands Economic Partnership (HEP). The HEP was founded in 2006 by the Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce to be a regional economic and community development engine for Jackson, Overton, Putnam and White Counties through marketing, advocacy, and workforce development and education programs which six counties are now part of.

“Only the concerted effort of many different team members can make accomplishments like this one possible, but having the Highlands Economic Partnership in place and working daily for our region certainly gives us an advantage when opportunities such as this arise,” said Jonathan West, Highlands Economic Partnership chair. “Grant applications are a tremendous amount of work and the necessary resources must be in place long before the opportunities are announced. Having an organization like the Highlands connecting business, government, and education leaders is a proven catalyst for regional success.”

This initiative is based on The Graduate! Network’s (TGN) proven model for improving outcomes for adult learners. The partnership between Tennessee and TGN will provide communities with training, guidance, support, and information to develop sustainable and locally-focused Drive to 55 efforts for adults. Each Reconnect Community grantee will adapt this service model to their local context, unique strengths, community partnerships and collaborations. This will result in a community- based effort of service delivery to adults that is unique to each community’s needs and characteristics.

The Upper Cumberland Tennessee Reconnect Community will employ three advisors who will work with adults 25 to 64 years old throughout the Upper Cumberland to provide advising and guidance so that these individuals can complete their post-secondary education. The advisors will travel to each county to meet with people at career centers, area companies, churches, libraries and other locations.  They will leave no stone unturned to reach out to the 34,000 plus who fall into this category. Assistance will be provided to others who have no college but want to learn what they need to do to be better prepared for employment.

“It is exciting for our region to receive this grant to reach adults wishing to complete a post-secondary education. In parts of our region, we have programs in place in collaboration with K-12, post-secondary education, business and industry, and Pathways Tennessee addressing opportunities to better prepare students while they are in school or college, and now we will be reaching those who fall out of those categories to ensure that we have a trained and competitive workforce ready for jobs already here and those that are coming to the region,” said Bob Bell, vice chair of the Highlands Workforce Development & Education committee.                         

The Tennessee Reconnect Community grant awarded three total grants to regions across the state. Implementation will begin November 2015 and the community centers will launch in March 2016. In mid-2016, THEC will choose a second cohort of five communities to launch services in late 2016.

The Tennessee Reconnect Community grants were chosen through a competitive application process. The grant program is administered by THEC and subgrants are funded by the State of Tennessee, with technical assistance funded by Lumina Foundation.


List of Funded Communities:

           Middle TN

o          Lead Organization: Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce

o          Counties    Served:  Cheatham,    Davidson,    Dickson,    Maury,

Montgomery, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson

           Upper Cumberland

o          Lead Organization: Highlands Economic Partnership

o          Counties Served: Cannon, Clay, Cumberland, DeKalb, Fentress,

Jackson, Macon, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, Smith, Van Buren,

Warren, White

           Southwest TN

o          Lead Organization: Southwest Tennessee Development District

o          Counties Served: Chester, Decatur, Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood,

Henderson, Madison, McNairy, Carroll, Crockett, Gibson, Tipton,