Feb 13, 2023 - News

Tennessee technical colleges are in line for $1 billion

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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Aging technical colleges throughout the state could be on the cusp of a $1 billion upgrade.

  • If Gov. Bill Lee's new spending plan is approved, the money will pay for six new campuses, the expansion of 16 others and the replacement of seven outdated buildings.

Why it matters: Many of Tennessee's technical colleges were built in the 1960s and 1970s and are woefully outdated.

  • Lee and other state leaders say improvements are urgently needed to build a workforce that can sustain the state's growing manufacturing and automotive sectors.
  • In his State of the State address last week, Lee said the new construction would expand capacity at technical colleges so that they could train as many as 10,000 new workers every year.

State of play: Many of the existing campuses aren't designed to accommodate modern equipment and high student demand.

  • Some lack basic amenities such as air conditioning and accessible restrooms.

What they're saying: The Tennessee Higher Education Commission approved a plan outlining the construction needs last month. Commission members were blunt in their assessments.

  • "I've seen the conditions some of them are in, and it is challenging to learn in those environments," commission vice chair Vernon Stafford Jr. said.
  • "We can't ignore the students who go through that system."

Secretary of State Tre Hargett, who also sits on the commission, said "now is the time" to address campus problems. He referred to the state's good budgetary standing driven by unusually high surpluses.

  • "With as much money as we have right now, how good things have been here, if we don't do something now, I don't know when we will."

Flashback: Lee, who previously served on the Higher Education Commission, came into office touting the power of trade schools. He has made technical colleges a priority as governor.

Zoom in: The new money would fully fund the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology master plan, which includes multiple projects in the Nashville area.

  • A $55.5 million upgrade of the Nashville campus would include new academic buildings and an expanded parking lot.
  • A $12.2 million replacement campus at the Nashville airport would offer a new hangar, lab space and classrooms.

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