Tennessee: The Innovation State?

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Could Tennessee be a model of future innovation and thinking? A state, once known for manufacturing, railroads and country music is pushing forward some pretty progressive ideas and policies. We explore how the state is revolutionizing both education and technology.

In Monday’s State of the State address, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam announced a proposal to eliminate tuition and fees for the state’s 13 community colleges and dozens of vocational schools. The change, which requires state legislature approval, has already been met with considerable support. Dr. Janice Gilliam, president of Northeast State Community College, weighs in on the potential impact of the "Tennessee Promise."

Along with higher education, the state of Tennessee is also tackling high speed Internet. Chattanooga, a city of barely more than 160,000 people, operates the fastest city-wide Internet network in the country. For only $70 a month, you can access one gigabit-per-second Internet speed in every Chattanooga home and business. That’s 50 times faster than the average speed in the U.S. With that type of broadband, you can download a movie in seconds.

How did the mid size southern city find itself on the frontier of Internet technology? And what has it meant for a once outdated economy? We talk to Andy Berke, Mayor of Chattanooga, and Drew Belz, co-founder of Fancy Rhino, a creative agency in Chattanooga, specializing in video, web, and design.


Drew Belz, Andy Berke and Janice Gilliam

Produced by:

Allie Ferguson and Ellen Frankman


T.J. Raphael

Comments [6]

Kelley from Tennessee

As a Summa cum laude Honors graduate from Northeast State Community College who has earned a Bachelor of Science in Speech Communication, and two Master of Arts degrees in History and English, I deeply resent NPR's "dumping ground" question. Let me explain why the community college system in our state is so much more than a "dumping ground" and has a higher graduation rate for students who transfer to complete their degrees at four year institutions. I can speak to the issue firsthand. Prior to attending NSCC, I took classes at the University of Michigan, and New Mexico State Universities. I can state unequivocally that the education I received at Northeast State was on a par with, and in many ways superior to the four years that I attended.

1. Northeast State's mission is student centric. It is about helping students to be successful, not about money, or research. Every department is motivated to encourage and motivate students in their college careers.

2. Our professors, most of whom hold Ph.D.'s are teaching at the community college level because they wanted interaction with students, not to spend their time chasing grant money, and doing research that removes them from the classroom.

3. At Northeast State my classes were small, never more than 25 students in a class (in my Honors program classes there could be as few as five). I was taught by a Ph.D. NOT a graduate assistant or a teaching assistant as I had been at a four year. In other words, I was receiving valuable knowledge from professors who knew what they were talking about - NOT graduate students learning the ropes who could care less whether I passed or failed as they were going to receive their stipend regardless.

5. The larger universities in their quest for always needed funding have lost sight of what they are supposed to do - provide knowledge, and develop critical thinking skills. At Northeast State I rarely knew my professors political affiliations. They TAUGHT their subject, and asked their students to think critically about the information provided not to believe what they believed. Too many times at four-year institutions I have witnessed students who were frustrated beyond measure because they clashed politically or disagreed on a professors take on religion. To disagree with a four year professor (akin to God in the classroom) is to do so at your own peril - as in your disagreement reflected in your grade. This is not what college is supposed to be about. College is to teach you to think for yourself, take in the information, process it, and make informed decisions. It is not about regurgitating what you have been spoon fed. Nor is it about being told that your values, your parents, or your political beliefs are inherently wrong and have caused this nation's downfall.

Feb. 09 2014 01:20 PM
Josh from Tennessee

As a Community College graduate, and University honors graduate, I take offense to your reference to our school as a "dumping ground." The quality of education provided by this school is second to none. Our transfer graduates complete their advanced degrees at a higher rate than any other student. Instead of thumbing your nose at this College, you may want to compare its quality and cost to some of the private schools and their overinflated tuition and fees.

Feb. 06 2014 09:30 PM
Lani Wilson from California

Interesting and laudable but California is the home of free higher education. When it began in 1961 Clark Kerr established The Master Plan for Higher Education in California; it made a college education a "right" as opposed to a "privilege." Of course, we have grown and we are 117 independent colleges with 2.8 million students. There are current challenges that make it a monumental challenge but at $46 per unit, we're still the best deal in the country for what we offer. Welcome to higher ed, Tennesse!

Feb. 06 2014 03:27 PM
Laura Ehling from Rochester MN

I am a proud product of the Minnesota Community College program. Anyone who says that community colleges are the "dumping ground" has never attended community college. It was the best decision I ever made in my college career. I spent more money the first semester at the university than I had in two years at community college.

Feb. 06 2014 02:26 PM
tonya musial from Arkansas

Your interview with Dr Gilliam was very interesting. I live in Arkansas and I wish we were as progressive as Tennessee in education. It did sound like you were a bit disrespectful to the idea of Community Colleges. Not everyone is cut out for immediate entry into a 4 year college. Kudo's to Tennessee!

Feb. 06 2014 01:25 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

I applaud the State of Tennessee for their efforts to help young people further their education.
I have friends who did not do well in High School, who then went to Community Colleges and found themselves. Many, continued their education after that.

Feb. 06 2014 01:04 PM

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