U.S. Under Secretary of Education James Kvaal discusses college affordability at TSU workshop

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – U.S. Under Secretary of Education James Kvaal held a workshop on Feb. 18 at Tennessee State University to discuss college affordability. It was part of a daylong visit by U.S. Secretary of Education, Dr. Miguel Cardona, to address teacher shortages and other educational needs.  

James Kvall, U.S. Under Secretary of Education, left; Dr. Jerri Haynes, Dean of the TSU College of Education; and Rich Williams, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Department of Education, participate in the discussion at the workshop. (Photo by Aaron Grayson, TSU Media Relations)

Organizers of the workshop said its main purpose was to allow Kvaal to hear directly from students about their concerns. They included the challenge of paying tuition and the effectiveness of Tennessee Promise, a state initiative that allows high school graduates to attend a community or technical college free of tuition.  

For instance, while Tennessee Promise takes care of tuition, students say they still have to pay for their books, which can sometimes be expensive.  

“They shared problems as students, and things they want to see happen in the future,” said Dr. Jerri Haynes, dean of TSU’s College of Education, and one of a number of educational stakeholders who also attended the workshop.  

Hartlee Hill, a first-year TSU dental hygiene major from Livingston, Tennessee, said she liked the fact that Kvaal took time to listen to their issues.  

“It was so good to be here and to hear everybody’s views and how to help improve the system,” said Hill.   

Accompanied by Rich Williams, chief of staff of the U.S. Department of Education, Kvaal said he wanted to gather information on the needs of students and educators, as well as make them aware of existing services. He said he was impressed by the level of “talented young people” at the workshop.   

“They were very sharp and very passionate about the issues they presented,” Kvaal said. “We talked a lot about the challenges of covering living expenses, books, and the challenges of student support services, such as mental health challenges and the difficulties first-generation college students face in navigating the system.”  

Dr. Curtis Johnson, TSU’s associate vice president and chief of staff, and Jessica Macy, senior director of student impact at Tennessee Achieve, a partnering organization to Tennessee Promise, were among stakeholders at the workshop.  

“This opportunity helped us highlight our students and all of their hard work and persistence, in attending college,” said Macy.  

Earlier in the day, the highlight of Education Secretary Cardona’s roundtable discussion was TSU’s Grow Your Own teacher pipeline initiative in the College of Education. TSU is the number one HBCU for producing teachers and a top institution in the field across the nation. 

“I’m really proud of what I see here,” Cardona told reporters after the roundtable. “We want to see more of this across the country. We know that with the American Rescue Plan funds, and what we’re pushing with Build Back Better, there’s going to be more support for this. It takes seeing programs like this to keep us pushing really hard because we know they work.” 

To learn more about TSU’s College of Education, visit https://www.tnstate.edu/coe/

For more information about the state’s Grow Your Own initiative, visit https://bit.ly/36oIgKN.