TCAT Jackson aims to recruit as enrollment drops

MADISON COUNTY, Tenn. — Manufacturing and healthcare: two of West Tennessee’s biggest industries. And also some of the most popular programs at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology.

“At one time, we’ll have 150 LPNs in training, then anything related to manufacturing, welding, machine tools, and industrial maintenance. Those are those really high demand occupations that pay really, really well for our area,” said TCAT Jackson President Jeff Sisk.

Sisk is the president of the Jackson campus, one of two dozen TCAT campuses in Tennessee.

Their summer term started in early May, with about 500 students. But right now, he says overall enrollment is down 18%.

“Also it’s kind of counter intuitive, but the technical colleges, when the economy is doing really, really well, and our economy is doing really well despite the pandemic, our enrollment is typically down,” Sisk said. “Because people will choose to go to work instead of go to school, because there are plenty of jobs available.”

So now it’s a recruitment game. Sisk says two of their biggest growth areas are dual enrollment and apprenticeships.

“The conversation I have to have with perspective students is, ‘Yeah, you can take that $16 an hour job, but invest in yourself, and I can help you get a job paying $24 to $25 an hour in about a year,'” said Sisk.

Sisk says the average age for a student at TCAT is 27 years old. 80% of them qualify for a Pell Grant, and most of them are able to get free tuition from the Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect scholarships.

“Fall term will begin in September, and that’s where we’re expecting a big enrollment increase,” Sisk said.

And the college is planning for that enrollment increase too.

They’re actually planning to receive more funding from the state to buy another truck for CDL training.

“Manufacturers can put out the product all day long, but if it sits on the dock because it can’t be shipped out, it affects everybody,” Sisk said.

And hire more instructors to get workers back into the local job market.

“And that’s critical to the success of our local economy,” Sisk said.

If you’re thinking about improving your skills, TCAT enrolls students year round. They have programs ranging from manufacturing to business and design.

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