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Organization sets goal of advancing higher ed agenda in legislature

January 29, 2002

In a state whose legislative climate barely supports initiatives to improve the educational experience for kids in grades K-12, it's virtually impossible to draw attention to the plight of higher education. Many simply don't see the value.

That's incredibly shortsighted, say members of an organization called Tennessee Tomorrow, a group out to change ideas of higher ed in the Volunteer State.

"Education drives our economy," says George Yowell, president. "We're not attracting high-paying jobs because we don't have an educated workforce."

According to the state Department of Labor, 21.5 percent of jobs will require a college degree or management experience by 2008. Yet Tennessee ranks 48th in the nation in the number of adults with at least a high school diploma. Only 17.7 percent of adults have a college degree.

At the same time, college in Tennessee is getting more and more expensive for would-be students. With funding failing to keep up with operating costs, colleges and universities have been forced to raise the fees by 15 percent.

Rep. Les Winningham, D-Huntsville and chair of the House Education Committee, says lawmakers can't put off investments in higher education much longer. Tennessee students still can get a quality education at reasonable price, he said in a recent article in "The Tennessean," but "we're on the verge of seeing a real decline."