Higher Education


From honors students working their way to upper management or medical careers to high school equivalency earners seeking to attain certifications in specific trades, the higher education student spectrum has broadened greatly over the last several years. Throughout Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, an array of community colleges, public and private four-year colleges and universities, and higher education centers with multiple tenants have consistently increased their offerings to help that range of students find pathways into successful careers here.

Student population demographics are changing as well. In Tennessee, where the state has instituted programs including Tennessee Reconnect and Tennessee Promise, individuals who once thought they had no shot at a college education are entering or returning to classrooms, bringing their own generation-diverse learning and communication styles with them.

Institutions of higher learning face greater challenges than ever before. Public institutions that once relied on state dollars are now working harder than ever to create public/private partnerships. Grant dollars are fought for by more public and private institutions than ever.

Colleges and universities are working to reach out to the business community, seeking guidance on what training programs will be useful to members of the newly graduating workforce. The business community, for its part, is learning that the workforce is more diverse than ever before, with up to four generations working together. With increased numbers of non-traditional students and an economy at near-full employment, workers from any of those generations may be fresh out of school.

Where colleges once saw themselves as being in competition with each other, more now see themselves as being in competition with cultures of ignorance, unfulfilled promise, and economic decline. Thus, partnerships between institutions are becoming more common.

In the pages ahead, we’ll touch on just a few of the many efforts being made by the region’s higher education institutions to provide business with the individuals today who will drive our economy tomorrow.

East Tennessee State University creating multiple economic drivers

East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tenn., is the region’s largest university. In addition to colleges of Arts & Sciences, Business & Technology and Education, the university has a wealth of healthcare-related courses of study. Colleges include the Quillen College of Medicine, the Gatton College of Pharmacy, the College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Services, the College of Nursing and the College of Public Health.

The healthcare sector’s importance to the regional economy is almost impossible to overstate. In 2018, Ballad Health became the largest single employer in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. As part of the merger that created Ballad, the company committed to investing heavily in research, potentially opening a wide array of economic opportunities based at East Tennessee State. In fact, it is the stated intent of Ballad Health to further leverage the College of Public Health at ETSU for its expertise in population health research, monitoring and evaluation of metrics, and securing research funding from external sources. Put in simpler terms, the investment by Ballad and later, potentially by other companies, into research at ETSU may portend opportunities not unlike those experienced by the Research Triangle of North Carolina years ago.

In addition, ETSU works in conjunction with Eastman to host the annual IDEAcademy, a multi-day seminar on innovation and leadership. The University also is home to the Roan Scholars, a competitive scholarship program targeted not to financial need, athletic talent or academic achievement; but to leadership potential.

ETSU Rankings/Other Noteworthy Accomplishments

• U.S. News and World Report ranked the ETSU College of Nursing 28th in the nation among online graduate nursing degree programs offered by nursing schools all over the country. (Jan. 11, 2018)

• U.S. News and World Report designated ETSU’s College of Nursing the best, and only, Tennessee school among its top online nursing graduate programs. The online graduate nursing program ranked 61st in the nation for best online master’s in nursing degree programs. (May 24, 2017)

• The College of Nursing’s master of science in nursing for nurse practitioner program has been ranked as the 20th most affordable such program in the country by the SR Education Group, a leading education publisher. (May 24, 2017)

• East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine has been ranked seventh in the nation for rural medicine training by U.S. News & World Report. (March 14, 2017)

• The Quillen College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University has been ranked 20th in the nation for producing medical doctors who go into family medicine.(December 21, 2016)

• University School ranked as 10th best high school in Tennessee.

• ETSU’s doctoral program in educational administration is ranked among the top 20 online doctorate programs in educational leadership in the nation.

• The online B.S. degree program in human services at East Tennessee State University has been ranked seventh among the top 25 best online human services programs by the website TheBestSchools.org.

• Alumna Monique Richard was just named one of the top 10 nutritionists making a difference in the country by the publication, Today’s Dietitian. Monique attended graduate school and did her internship here at ETSU.

• ETSU College of Public Health ranked 32nd in nation for Best Public Health Master’s by collegechoice.net.

• Ranked No. 17 for Most Affordable Online Graduate Schools for a Master’s Degree by College Choice.

• Digital Media among top 40 public animation schools and colleges 2018 (rank 31).

• Military Friendly school designation (Victory Media).

• Military Spouse Friendly School designation (Victory Media).

• Designated a Voter Friendly Campus, one of only 83 campuses across the country to earn this designation.

• Designated an Adult Friendly Institution.

Animation Career Review

• The ETSU College of Public Health’s “Project EARTH” curriculum was awarded the national Delta Omega Award for Innovative Public Health Curriculum.

• Legislation written by Devon Waldorff, a student at ETSU, to protect military personnel attending higher education institutions across the state was just signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam.

Dr. Lindsey King will join Smyth County
Community Hospital

Emory & Henry awards first class of doctoral degrees

It’s not often that a college founded in 1836 does something for the first time. On May 5, however, Emory & Henry College did just that, graduating the inaugural class from the School of Health Sciences’ Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Program. Graduates from that program have already accepted positions serving the region at facilities in Bristol, Johnson City and Mountain City, Tenn.; Abingdon, Bland, Marion, Pulaski and Richlands, Va; and Bluefield, West Va.

The DPT program joined a growing list of healthcare-related degrees offered at the college. Since opening its School of Health Sciences in Marion, Va., the college has opened masters programs in Physician Assistant Studies, Occupational Therapy and Athletic Training.

The graduation culminated a busy academic year for the college, which officially completed a major addition to student life designed to assist in the transition students make to life after college.

Eight new residence halls in total, including six apartment-style halls, and a community center, have now been added to two existing residence halls in an area known as The Village. The design and layout of the facilities, which provides 197 beds, is a first for the college in its design and layout. Work on the $12.5 million project began in the fall of 2016.

Students moved into the new halls this past August, while completion of the community center took place. In November, the college cut the ribbon on the community building that has been designed to accommodate 300 students and house laundry facilities, a mailroom, a fitness center, a recreation area, a community kitchen and a collaborative meeting space. The community building also includes three various-sized classrooms and an apartment for the resident director.

Each apartment unit includes a shared living room and kitchen along with three bedrooms and two full bathrooms. The new structures incorporate design and finishes that closely match other buildings on the historic campus.

Funding for the project was made available in part through the USDA Rural Development Community Facilities Direct Loan and Grant Program, which provides affordable funding to develop essential community facilities in rural areas. Other updates in The Village include the updating of the exterior of the train depot that currently houses the college’s athletics training.

King University providing STEM outreach in local community

King University is a Presbyterian-affiliated, doctoral-level comprehensive university founded in 1867. The University offers more than 90 majors, minors, preprofessional degrees and concentrations in fields such as business, nursing, law, medical and health sciences, pharmacy, education, social work, and humanities.

King has broadened both its course offerings and its geographic footprint in recent years. The university has seven academic schools of learning, including Arts & Sciences; Behavioral & Health Sciences; Business & Economics; Communication, Information & Design; Education; and Nursing; as well as the Peeke School of Christian Mission.

For the 28th consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report this year recognized King among the best colleges in the nation. King was named a “Best Regional University.” The Princeton Review named King one of the “Best Colleges in the Southeast” for a 14th consecutive year.

In addition to its main campus in Bristol, Tenn., King offers courses at locations in Kingsport, Knoxville and Sevierville, Tenn., and Abingdon and Richlands, Va.

This summer, King will also conduct outreach to young women in the Bristol community. The King University Women in STEM club will host a camp for young women in grades five through nine. The STEMgineering camp at King will include activities focusing on Chemistry, Engineering, Biology, Cryptology (code breaking), Animation Software, Chess, Coding/Programming, Orienteering, and Statistical Analysis. The camp will be held from July 16-20.

“The outpouring of interest in our STEM Day for Girls event that took place this spring showed us there is a need and desire in our area for STEM-related education for young women,” said Wendy Traynor, M.Ed., assistant professor of Mathematics at King. “We anticipated 20 students at our spring event and were incredibly pleased to host more than 70 middle school girls who were excited about STEM. Our new STEMgineering Camp at King was born from this enthusiasm.”

The King University Women in STEM club is a group of female undergraduates majoring or minoring in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math. The club was formed in August 2015 thanks in part to a grant from the Tensor Foundation of the Mathematical Association of America.

PHOTO courtesy Milligan College

Milligan College moves “forward ever”

Milligan College is a Christian liberal arts college in Johnson City, Tenn., offering more than 100 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in a variety of fields, along with graduate and adult degree completion programs. 

Milligan’s vision is to change lives and shape culture through a commitment to servant leadership. Milligan was ranked in 2017 by U.S. News and World Report as one of the top 25 regional universities in the South for quality and value, and one of Washington Monthly’s top master’s universities in the nation.

In 2017, the college announced the completion of the largest fundraising initiative in the college’s 150-year history, the second phase of the “Forward Ever” campaign, raising nearly $42 million, bringing the decade-long campaign total to more than $70 million. The funds have been put to good use. The college has added nearly a dozen new programs, including mechanical and electrical engineering and a doctorate in education.

Milligan’s new Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies program is a 28-month, 108-credit hour program filling a gap in healthcare employment regionally and nationally. The program prepares highly trained healthcare professionals with a foundation in primary care to work with physicians and other members of the healthcare team in a variety of medical specialties. Classes are held at Milligan’s Ballad Physician Assistant Center on the college’s campus, with clinical partnerships throughout the region. Deadline for students to apply is Sept. 1.

Northeast State students’ skills recognized

Northeast State Community College’s SkillsUSA chapter, which was created a mere eight months ago, achieved outstanding success recently earning three gold medals, three silver medals, and one bronze medal at the Tennessee 2018 Leadership and Skills Conference.

“I am extremely proud of our students,” said Nichole Manz-Young, the college’s SkillsUSA advisor. “We only had a month to put together a team and prepare. The fact they did so well speaks to the quality of our students and programs–they just shined.”

The gold medalists have the opportunity to compete in the

SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills competition set for June 25-29 in Louisville, Ky. More than 16,000 students, teachers, and business partners are expected to participate in that week-long event.

Additionally, Northeast State’s Austin Cox, president of the Tennessee SkillsUSA Postsecondary Association and president of the College’s SkillsUSA chapter, will compete for a national office at the conference.

The Northeast State Health Knowledge Bowl participants, Rachel Henson, Samantha Legg, Stephanie Roller, and Taylor Shockley defeated the reigning champions to take gold. In addition, Dominique Cross won gold for collision repair and Alexander Wittman took gold in computer programming.

Other medalists included Austin Cox, who took a silver in job interviewing and Thomas Adams, who won silver in aviation. Lance Parker took silver for automotive refinishing. Tristan Morley took bronze in electrical construction wiring.

Northeast State also garnered the James D. King Division II award for colleges. The award is named for King (Northeast State’s interim president) to honor his commitment to making SkillsUSA a priority experience for Tennessee College of Applied Technology students and his work to establish the Tennessee Postsecondary SkillsUSA Association.

The award is based on the most points accumulated by the school’s SkillsUSA chapter and the number and type of medals received at the state competition. In addition to the students, King earned the 2018 SkillsUSA College Postsecondary Leadership Award.

Northeast State’s participation in SkillsUSA is a sign of the college’s ongoing commitment to improving educational opportunities for students, King said. “SkillsUSA widens options for CTE students no matter what their field of study and showcases student skills and success in a unique way that gets them excited about higher education.”

The Framework components include personal skills, workplace skills and technical skills grounded in academics. Working in teams, understanding leadership and communicating clearly are required in any career. The Framework showcases these skills, connects students to employers, and provides a way for students to articulate what they are learning.

Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center training teachers to train teachers

Sometimes, educators have to be educated before they can educate others. This summer, and possibly for the next three years, the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center (SWVaHEC) in Abingdon will be the site of just such education.

In 2016, Virginia became the first state in the nation to pass sweeping computer science education reform. The law mandates every Virginia child will receive access to essential computer science literacy – including coding – from kindergarten through high school graduation.

In order to comply with the new law, teachers throughout the K-12 spectrum will have to be trained to integrate those computer skills into the existing curriculum. The law is written so that different benchmarks must be met at different times between 2019 and 2022.

The SWVaHEC has signed a memorandum of understanding with Virginia to be a STEM Coach training site. “The teachers who come here to be trained will become STEM coaches at every building and every grade level,” says David Matlock, SWVaHEC executive director. The first camp of teachers will undergo intensive training before returning to their schools as certified coaches for their grade level.

“We are partnering with CodeVA (a Richmond-based not-for-profit organization created to promote computer science) to provide free educator training to elementary school teachers from 46 schools in 17 districts.”

That means every school district will depend on its own teachers to train the rest of its own teachers. “Over the next three years we hope to train a whole lot of people from across the region,” Matlock says. “The first training sessions in the first week in June will involve elementary school teachers. My wife is a first grade teacher. She’s not a computer science person. But she will come dive head-first into this and come out as an elementary STEM Coach. She’s going to learn how to integrate it into her first grade curriculum to meet the state law, then she’ll go back to her school and coach the other first grade teachers and other elementary teachers if necessary.”

Dr. James Hurley and Dr. Andrew Buzzelli. Photo by Scott Robertson

Tusculum University to enroll first optometry class in 2020

Tusculum College just finished its final term. Tusculum University will begin offering classes in the fall. The university’s administration cites several reasons for the change, but one stands out. Tusculum needed to become a university so it could open a new college.

“We have launched the College of Optometry,” says Dr. James Hurley, Tusculum president. Currently there are only 22 colleges of optometry in the country, but Hurley says the papers have been filed and the launch process is underway. “We submitted our feasibility study successfully. We go before the Accreditation Council on Optemetric Education Board in June.”

Hurley says he expects the board to grant Stage One status to the college around 60 days after that. “At stage one, we start building out the facility and the faculty. Stage two is the point at which we start accepting students. It will take us a year to build the class, so we will have students on campus in Fall 2020.” At that point, the college will be added to the Common App, in which all 22 schools appear. Students are allowed to apply to three of the colleges at any given time through the Common App.

Hurley is confident the college will meet all its deadlines. Much of that confidence is born of the fact that the executive vice president of the College of Health Sciences at Tusculum worked with Hurley to start one of the other existing optometry colleges. “Dr. Andrew Buzzelli and I started the program at Pikeville,” Hurley says. “In their fourth year last year they were named the national optometry school of the year.”

University of Tennessee MBA program offers diverse options

The University of Tennessee Haslam College of Business MBA choices fit nicely into the school of “more is better.” The college offers no fewer than seven different MBA programs, depending on the potential student’s career path, geographic location and long-term goals.

The Haslam MBA is a residential full-time MBA program targeted to students who wish to learn a full range of technical skills in an applied learning environment. The Professional MBA is a weekend-based program for students who live within driving distance of the university’s Knoxville campus. Both the Haslam and Professional MBAs take 16 months to earn.

Healthcare professionals have options specifically dedicated to their career path. The Physician Executive MBA program, the longest-running of its kind, is available only to physicians.  The Healthcare Leadership MBA is an executive MBA program for those whose concentration is the business of healthcare, rather than direct provision of services. Both the Physician Executive and Healthcare Leadership MBAs are 11-month programs.

Other MBA programs include an Aerospace & Defense MBA (11 months), a Strategic Leadership MBA for individuals who wish to transform their organizations (11 months) and a Global Supply Chain MBA program offered only to supply chain managers with organizations of significant scope and size (11 months).

Clearly, if you are looking for a cookie-cutter MBA, Tennessee is not the school for you.

MBAs aside, if you are looking for a better understanding of workforce development, Tennessee is exactly the school for you. The UT Center for Industrial Services Institute for Public Service is offering a two-day course in August covering topics and trends such as the widening skills gap, the multigenerational workforce, the changing nature of the workplace and the importance of collaboration among allies.

The course is designed to help economic development practitioners, government officials and other community leaders at state, regional and local levels understand best practices, available resources and partnership approaches to building a competitive workforce.

Chancellor Donna Henry

UVa-Wise drives economic progress in the coalfields

Perhaps no college or university in the region has done more to reshape its image in the last decade than the University of Virginia’s College at Wise (UVa-Wise). What was in the past known as a small liberal arts school on the sleepy side of Southwest Virginia is now a dynamic force in the reconfiguration of the regional economy.

The campus annually hosts the Southwest Virginia Economic Forum (see page 14), an opportunity for education, business and economic development professionals to come together to ensure cooperation and innovation continue as the economy diversifies.

The college’s chemistry department recently received accreditation by the American Chemical Society, making the program the fourth academic program at the College to receive such recognition. ACS approval of the College’s baccalaureate chemistry program means UVa-Wise offers a rigorous curriculum that produces students with the academic and professional skills necessary for successful careers in the industry.

UVa-Wise now touts accreditation in nursing, education, software engineering/computer science, and chemistry. “I am so pleased that the American Chemical Society has granted accreditation to the UVa-Wise chemistry program,” said UVa-Wise Chancellor Donna Henry. “ACS accreditation reinforces the strength of our program and more clearly signals to graduate schools and employers that our students are well prepared for rigorous academic and professional careers in chemistry.”

In addition, the college continues to develop new programs to push progress. July will mark the beginning of a new Entrepreneurship and Cybersecurity program on the campus. Targeted toward existing students in the fields of business and computer science, the program seeks to broaden the approaches in both disciplines. Students who currently study business will have opportunities to learn key concepts regarding the safe use of technology, while cybersecurity students will learn 101-level entrepreneurship skills.

Virginia Highlands Community College takes nimble

For more than 50 years, Virginia Highlands Community College has worked to provide pathways for the citizens of Southwest Virginia to find their places as productive members of the region’s workforce. Those pathways may be as straightforward as attaining a two-year associates degree after graduating high school. They may take the student from VHCC to a four-year college or university to complete a bachelor’s degree. They may also entail less traditional approaches. At VHCC’s most recent graduation ceremony, a student who had been taking dual enrollment courses actually completed his VHCC degree requirements before he graduated from high school.

This summer VHCC plans to offer several short-term training courses targeted to students who don’t need a degree to improve their potential to get higher-paying employment in the region. In July and August, the college will offer a program to help students obtain a commercial driver’s license, for instance. Other such programs include programs for phlebotomy technicians and certified production technicians. Six Sigma Green and Yellow Belt courses will be offered. Students can even take short courses in mechatronics and drone operation.

The college works with local employers to create customized training programs and recently held a job fair to connect students and graduates with potential employers. VHCC also is home to the Virginia Highlands Small Business Development Center, which provides a wide array of technical assistance to small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs.

The college offers local employers assessments to help make better educated decisions during the hiring process and to help identify training needs before they become turnover-causing performance issues. Among the assessments offered are the ACT Work Keys & The Virginia Career Readiness Certificate, Bennett Mechanical and DISC.

approach to workforce development

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