At every public meeting I attended last week (and there were several of them) the same mantra was repeated: "Education is the engine that drives the economy."
While a new north-south road to connect Lafayette with the I-40 at Lebanon could do the most for the local economy, the long-promised improvement of Hwy. 10-south has turned out to be just that-a long promise, ten years or more down the line.
Our private boosters and public officials seem to have taken the Serenity Prayer to heart:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
To ever get better roads we can continue to lobby our elected officials, and remind the governor and his appointees at TDOT not to forget that a lot of us vote up here on the Highland Rim.
But we can do something about improving education and getting better access to it for our citizens, both young and old. This was the focus of a well-attended "Post Secondary Education Access" meeting held last Thursday afternoon, January10 at the NCTC community room.
Representatives of Tennessee Tech, Vol State, and the Technology Center in Hartsville were there.
The bad news all three bore was that there is no funding available for off-campus locations, or full-time storefront enrollment or counseling.
The good news was that there are available places here where prospective students might meet with visiting counselors from the three schools, once or twice a month. The Career Center was suggested as one location, and Artis Network owner Steve Cothron offered a conference room for counseling at his place of business, appropriately located on College Street in Lafayette.
While there is a waiting list for the fastest growing technical programs (such as practical nursing) offered at Hartsville, other high tech classes have room for new students. The welding program there has a 100 percent placement record, and the business systems tech/administrative assistant training program has a 90 percent placement rate.
I found this out at another "Education is the engine that drives the economy" meeting held last week.
The Hartsville technical center hosted a "Legislative Brunch" last Friday to show what they offer area students. Almost all of the programs are of twelve-month duration, and lottery-funded scholarships are available that pay for almost all of the tuition.
Electronics, mechanics, industrial maintenance, computer and welding technology classes are all offered at the TCC-Hartsville campus, just fifteen miles south of Lafayette. Drafting, business systems training, and practical nursing classes are also offered there.
The Macon Count P-16 Council ("P-16" stands for pre-school through four-year college) is doing good work to gain support for a post-secondary education campus here. Their goal is a store-front presence for enrollment and counseling, and a real campus for post-secondary education in Macon County by 2009.
Carolyn Whittaker is leading this charge, based on the "Field of Dreams" theory that if we build on the foundation of continuing education, the jobs will come to the workforce.
A couple of things Carolyn and her Post Secondary Education Team note are these facts: Macon County ranks 94th (out of 95 counties) in the percent of adults twenty-five years or older earning a Bachelor's Degree or higher in the state. This at the same time Macon County has grown more than 36 percent in population since 1990, and is the 23rd fastest growing county in Tennessee.
I spoke with and "lobbied" state Rep. Stratton Bone at the Hartsville meeting last Friday, for help in getting improvements in Interstate access for Macon County out of TDOT. Citing funding problems, he was not optimistic about our chances for a good, new road anytime soon, and I was not surprised.
But the representative (whose counties are Trousdale, Cannon and Wilson) was supportive and enthusiastic about the opportunities that continuing education offers.
We should all get behind this re-newed effort to improve our access to post-secondary education, have the courage to change the things that we can, and accept the things we cannot.
Our geographical location, the good character of our citizens and natural beauty of our region will bring us tourists and retirees, but not necessarily better roads any time soon.
Now, just give us the education and the wisdom to know the difference.