What do you envision for the future of higher education?
For Tennessee to attract and grow jobs today and in the future, we have to do a better job of building and developing a skilled workforce. Today, only 32 percent of Tennesseans have a two-year degree or higher, but at least 55 percent of future jobs will require one. Our “Drive to 55” initiative focuses on at least 55 percent of Tennesseans earning a post-secondary degree by the year 2025. We want Tennessee to have the best-trained workforce in America.
What do you envision particularly for the University of Tennessee System and the state of Tennessee?
The future of the University of Tennessee—as with all of our colleges and universities—and the state of Tennessee are directly linked. UT schools must capitalize on the unique assets they have and put a strong emphasis on preparing graduates to meet marketplace demands so that more Tennesseans are able to stay here in Tennessee to work.
How do you envision UT helping to accomplish the Drive to 55 goal?
As our flagship university, UT will continue to play a major role in our workforce development efforts to prepare Tennesseans for good-paying, high-quality jobs, as it always has. We will work closely with the University of Tennessee as we continue to look for ways to improve access, affordability and the quality of our programs.
Should everyone go to college?
College is not for everyone, but it needs to be for more Tennesseans than it has in the past. We are hearing from potential employers that they need a more skilled workforce to fill today and future positions. It’s not just about producing graduates but graduates appropriately trained for the jobs in the marketplace.
There is interest on the part of universities to produce more STEM majors. Do you still believe in the value of the study of humanities? If so, why do you think they are important?
The study of humanities will always be important. I was a history major, and I know the value of that background in my job every day.
Technology is greatly impacting the way education is delivered, and there are some who think online education could replace the need for residential universities. What do you think of the need for students to have an on-campus experience?
I think emerging technologies are allowing post-secondary institutions to be more flexible to the student. If you’re a single mother trying to earn her degree or a recent high school graduate, we need to do all we can to remove barriers and encourage more Tennesseans to continue their education. .
Looking back on your own undergraduate college experience, what did you find to be the most valuable and memorable?
I have to say my favorite was meeting my wife, Crissy, there on the very first day.