Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dean weighs free community college

He wants to review urban mayors' proposal By COLBY SLEDGE • Staff Writer (Tennessean) • July 19, 2008 A proposal for free community college in Davidson County has Nashville Mayor Karl Dean intrigued, but he hasn't accepted an invitation to join mayors of Tennessee's largest counties in making the offer. Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale and Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton proposed the idea in a July 11 letter to Dean and Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey. Ragsdale and Wharton asked the two men to join the Tennessee Urban Mayors Forum, a newly formed nonprofit organization. The group's first initiative would be to raise private funds to help make community college free for high school graduates in the mayors' respective counties, according to consultant Robert Gowan. Gowan is a former policy adviser and lobbyist in Gov. Phil Bredesen's administration. "He believes it's a worthy goal, but he needs to review the details," Dean spokeswoman Janel Lacy said Thursday afternoon. Dean has discussed the plan with the mayors, but has not set a time frame for analyzing the proposal, Lacy said. The funds would be in addition to state lottery scholarships, Pell grants and state need-based awards, which mentors and volunteers in the mayors' program would help students obtain, Gowan said. The program would cost $350,000 the first year to fund awards for 450 students in Davidson County, based on estimates from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, Gowan said. That figure would double in the second year, and could possibly grow if adult learners were added. Mayors worked together Businesses would have incentive to donate to create a more educated work force, Gowan said, and to potentially have an impact on curriculum at local community colleges. According to the letter, Dean would be secretary of the Tennessee Urban Mayors Forum and Ramsey would be treasurer. Wharton is president of the group, and Ragsdale is vice president. Annual membership dues are $35,000, according to the letter. Ragsdale and Wharton have not yet paid, Gowan said. "The mission is to create a spot where these mayors can work more effectively collectively," Gowan said. The mayors previously worked together in lobbying Bredesen for increased education funding. Ramsey has sounded "very warm to the idea" in talks about the group, said Gowan, who has not heard from Dean.

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