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June 20, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

Community colleges take action to encourage people’s continued education

PSCC will be running four summer camps for high school students to learn about various career paths.

Community college enrollment numbers dropped during the pandemic and have been slow to creep back up to regular numbers. According to the National Clearing House (NSC) Research Center, the total number of enrolled students fell by 11 percent in 2020, and another seven percent in 2021. Tennessee-based community college systems were not immune to that decline. visited Pellissippi State Community College’s (PSCC) Blount County Campus to meet with the newly elected Dean, Anna Graham, about what she’s doing to help increase awareness around community colleges.  

Graham shared how community colleges provide access to postsecondary education at a much lower cost compared to four-year universities. Furthermore, there are several grants, scholarships, and funding opportunities available for students.

“Financial status is not a barrier for students to attend community college in the state of Tennessee,” she said. “The only problem is that a lot of students and families don’t know that.”

Graham has been building awareness about the resources available ever since she moved into the role of interim, and eventually full-time dean. Meaning, she’s not just trying to reach high school students, but also people who left the education system altogether.

For example, one of the programs Graham praised was the Tennessee Reconnect program, which offers students who left the school system a pathway back into education. The whole goal of the program is to help more adults obtain associate’s or higher-level degrees.

For high school students, the Tennessee Promise Scholarship opens doors for students to study at any of the College System of Tennessee’s 13 community colleges or 24 colleges of applied technology. Graham said the PSCC staff is always happy to walk students through applying for either program, as well as any FAFSA paperwork.

However, enticing students with free schooling is only a small part of the equation.

“We have to get them out to the campus to experience what it is really like here,” she said.

That’s why Graham has launched four high school summer camp programs at PSCC Blount County Campus: CSI Forensics camp, Event Planning camp, Leadership camp, and Entrepreneurship camp.

All four of the topics feed directly into fields of study offered and available at the PSCC Blount County campus.

For example, the Entrepreneurship camp will run July 9-12 from 9 a.m. to noon on the Blount County campus. It will walk high school students through what it takes to run a business, develop a product, and market their company. Participants can register at this link.

Aside from the summer programming, Graham also has big ideas for how the make the community college campus have a bigger “community” feeling. She has been envisioning how to utilize courtyard space for events, festivals, and other programming to encourage the community to come out to the campus.

Additionally, PSCC has installed space for students to play volleyball and other games on the campus lawn and created many nooks and crannies for cozy studying.

Graham’s thought process is that if students enjoy the campus, it will make them more likely to commit to completing their associate degree.

Perhaps, the most important initiative Graham is focusing on is the College’s initiative to align the curriculum with the changing times. The school added a business/entrepreneurship concentration to give students an outlet to create something for themselves. The community college also created career programs in Cyber defense and computer information technology to cater to the innovative careers popping up throughout the region.

You can read the community college’s full list of programs and certificates here.

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