MURFREESBORO -- Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam not only loves veterans who served their country, but he wants them in Tennessee's workforce.
Haslam said jobs were the primary reason he attended the second Statewide Veteran Education Academy hosted Wednesday (March 8) at Middle Tennessee State University.
Haslam, Department of Veterans Services Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder and others addressed more than 100 representatives from more than 40 higher education campuses. They discussed topics including mental health, data collection and details about the Tennessee STRONG ACT providing eligible National Guard members with the tuition to earn first-time bachelor's degrees.
"We're competing with states and countries all over the world for the right workforce," said Haslam. "Veterans are a competitive advantage for us. One of the things we are trying to do is have a veterans' task force to help ease the transition for veterans as they come back into public life. Education is a key piece of that."
The governor said student veterans "enrich the campuses across the state with their life experiences, leadership, wisdom, commitment and determination to preserver.
"This population is a critical piece of our Drive to 55 initiative to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or credential to 55 percent by 2025," Haslam added.
In introducing Haslam, interim Provost Mark Byrnes shared how MTSU is:
• Excited about "the plan to offer free college access to adults through the Tennessee Reconnect program."
• Standing ready to "transition a new wave of community college graduates toward four-year degrees."
• Thankful for the recent grant allocated by the governor through the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to General Huber for the creation of the new Veterans Transitioning Home Office, the first major expansion of the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center.
Haslam established the Veterans Education Task Force in November 2013.
In addition to touring the Daniels Center, attendees heard presentations from Student Veterans of America, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, Tennessee Board of Regents and Tennessee Army National Guard.
Keith M. Huber, MTSU senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives, told the group the MTSU "approach to life is one of being a student of life. We learn by the people we have the privilege to interact with every day."
Huber is a retired lieutenant general who served nearly 40 years in the U.S. Army.
Grinder said the task force's efforts and regional meetings have "helped strengthen the campus network through a shared commitment to student veteran success through improved data collection, information sharing and practices to address transitional challenges."
MTSU Division of Information Technology systems analyst Janae Peterson received the state's first Transformation Award for the development of the most comprehensive data collection program now being shared across Tennessee.