Tennessee Congressman Scott DesJarlais (R-04) continued to barnstorm through Middle Tennessee this week. That included a stop at Motlow College, where Rep. DesJarlais met with Motlow president Dr. MaryLou Apple and a select group of students at the school.
DesJarlais said “the future of higher education” was at the forefront of Monday’s discussion.
“They had some issues they wanted to share,” said DesJarlais, who is being challenged for his seat in Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District by State Senator Jim Tracy.
Joe Carr recently dropped out of the 4th Congressional District Race, leaving Tracy and DesJarlais to battle head-to-head for the seat.
DesJarlais was back in his home district this week making rounds at a number of schools, discussing the state of education in Tennessee.
“I think the best thing we do is listen. The good ideas on how to fix these things don’t come out of Washington; they come from the people in our district,” said DesJarlais, adding that he can collect thoughts and concerns throughout his roundtable discussions and “take these things back to Washington.”
“It gives the people who need to share the information a voice.”
Among the issues discussed Monday at Motlow were the needs of veterans returning to school; the way the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) disperses funds to community colleges; and the ever-growing field of mechatronics.
“There is an issue with the program for veterans and that’s something of importance here in our area,” DesJarlais said. “Apparently some funds have been cut and there are some concerns about funding from veterans programs.
“Mrs. Apple also expressed some concern over the way (Motlow) gets (its) funding. There’s no real means for Motlow to track the success of its students. She is asking for a better tracking system for the success of the students.”
Much of Motlow’s funds are dependant upon the success rate of its students. When students drop in, take a semester or two of classes and then move on to a four-year school, it becomes difficult to track that student’s success. With state funding based on that success, DesJarlais said Motlow officials were concerned that the college could be missing out on needed monies.
Mechatronics — a multidisciplinary field of engineering — was a focus as well.
“Mechatronics trains (students) to work in a skilled labor position. A one-year course in robotics maintenance to (work) in these plants like Bridgestone, Nissan and even Frito Lay (can help) produce the skilled laborer that we need in Tennessee,” said DesJarlais. “There are high-skilled jobs out there, but we can’t get people trained to do it. These are positions that pay $60,000 after just one year in school. It’s niche training for people to work on these robots when they go down.”
While that’s only a morsel of what the group discussed, DesJarlais said it was the discussion itself that was important. He’s seeking the input from his constituents, information he said he hopes to share with his fellow lawmakers.
An opponent of heavy-handed federal government, DesJarlais said some regulations make it difficult on small colleges.
“One of the big complaints about federal government now is that it’s too intrusive,” he said. “They were saying that regulation through the federal education system (has made) it difficult to help students the way they want to. Motlow received a grant, but they wouldn’t (identify) the students they need to help. That’s kind of an example of the frustration with the regulations and restrictions.
“These are the type of things we need to (understand) with the education back home so we can put together a good bill.”
For his part, DesJarlais said he wants to see continued funding for Pell Grants and student loans, as well as grants and increased funding for students who take part in accelerated programs.
“We need to continue to work and reform the programs to make sure they are there for the motivated student, and we need to make sure we get the motivated student in the right places,” he said. “We need to be leading students down the right path to where they will be satisfied at the end of the education experience.”
—By ROBERT HOLMAN, MCN Editor