Looking for ways to better serve residents of rural counties in Tennessee has been discussed avidly since Gov. Bill Lee took office in January. In August, Lee met with local leaders from each of Tennessee’s 15 counties designated as “distressed” by the Appalachian Regional Commission during his Rural Opportunity Summit.
While rural access includes everything from reliable high-speed internet connection to access to health care and hospitals, a key component is access to higher-education opportunities.
As an online university, WGU Tennessee is the third-largest private, nonprofit college in Tennessee, based on full-time enrollment. We have students and graduates in all 95 counties in Tennessee, and our program is structured to make it easier for working adults to take the next step toward getting a degree. As Tennessee leaders begin to make policy decisions to better support rural communities, we are taking steps to continue to increase access to education.
Nationally, only 15 percent of people in distressed ZIP codes have obtained a bachelor’s degree, according to a 2018 report by the Economic Innovation Group. In order to better meet students where they are, WGU Tennessee has developed partnerships with all 13 of Tennessee’s community college systems and Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology, providing easier onboarding into WGU Tennessee programs.
Supporting students in rural areas is essential to ensuring these communities have qualified educators and health care and information technology professionals. As part of our commitment to increasing rural access to higher education, we’re launching “Everywhere, TN.”
Everywhere, TN is an awareness campaign and scholarship program designed specifically for students in one of Tennessee’s 15 distressed counties or 24 at-risk counties. Several $3,000 scholarships will be awarded to students seeking higher-education degrees with WGU Tennessee in these areas.
“We understand how important access to higher education is to Tennesseans, particularly those in rural counties,” said Dr. Kimberly Estep, chancellor of WGU Tennessee. “We’re committed to ensuring that all Tennesseans are able to pursue a degree, and this scholarship is one step to removing barriers to education that many face.”
Everywhere, TN will feature real stories from real WGU Tennessee students in rural counties. Visit tennessee.wgu.edu/everywhere to learn more.