The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) and Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) announced Thursday a partnership that will expand individual opportunities for earning course credit and certifications through TDEC's Fleming Training Center in Murfreesboro, online and at other statewide locations.
"Fleming Training Center offers cutting-edge technology and advanced classes in a variety of water areas, and this partnership will allow traditional and non-traditional students to take full advantage," TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau said. "Having qualified candidates for these jobs is essential for protecting public health and the environment."
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the water supply and sanitation sector is expected to experience an employment growth rate of 45 percent in coming years due to regulations, infrastructure growth, security, and customer demands.
"Water and wastewater operators in Tennessee have completed extensive training and passed a comprehensive exam through the Fleming Training Center in order to be certified," said Brandon Hulette, director of the Fleming Training Center. "This partnership will allow MTSU to recognize the level of expertise certified operators in Tennessee have acquired."
MTSU officials say this is a comprehensive plan that provides degree paths for both traditional age students preparing to enter the workforce for the first time and for adult learners who are already in the water and wastewater industries.
"We're extremely excited about this agreement with TDEC because it builds upon MTSU's ongoing goal of making higher education accessible to more Tennesseans," MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee said. "Producing highly skilled graduates is a critical mission for the 21st century workforce and we're pleased this partnership will do just that."
Under the partnership, the traditional college pathway will be a four-year degree program on the MTSU campus with a major in Environmental Sustainability and Technology with a concentration in Water Resource Management. The program, administered through MTSU's College of Basic and Applied Sciences, is designed to meet the unique knowledge base and skill set needs of water resource operators.
"These degrees will prepare workers for high-quality, in-demand positions in Tennessee," said Robert "Bud" Fischer, dean of the MTSU College of Basic and Applied Sciences. "We're preparing these students for careers, not just jobs."
"This partnership allows MTSU and TDEC's Fleming Training Center to provide nontraditional students with a unique pathway to a bachelor's degree and career advancement," added Mike Boyle, dean of MTSU's University College. "This is a great example of how higher education can collaborate with another state agency to fill a workforce need."
The nontraditional pathway may include some of the following:
. A degree completion program utilizing previous college work
. College credit for prior learning
. College credit for military experience (learning)
. College credit for professional certifications
These elements can go toward completion of a customized bachelor's degree that meets the student's career objective.
"The link between the knowledge and training taught at our colleges and universities and the career opportunities and workforce needs in our state is stronger than ever before, and this program is a commendable example of the partnerships that drive success," said Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan.
"MTSU has tailored a unique program that meets industry needs, but it also provides distinctive pathways to help both traditional and nontraditional students reach their career goals."
Under the agreement, MTSU will also provide:
. Opportunities for TDEC Fleming Training Center students to utilize required training toward a degree through MTSU's Prior Learning Assessment process;
. Individual academic advising for TDEC Fleming Training Center students;
. A free, one-hour "first course" that will help TDEC Fleming Training Center students make the transition back to school; and
. A scholarship amount equal to the tuition for the final course or $1,000 (whichever is less), for students who maintain consecutive term degree progress (five courses a year regardless of term) and maintain a "C" average GPA.
"This collaborative effort is a perfect example of the innovation that Tennessee needs in order to meet the Drive to 55," said Mike Krause, executive director of the Drive to 55 in the Office of Governor Bill Haslam. "We commend MTSU for continually seeking ways to contribute to the community and the state."