KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – The Tennessee Board of Regents stopped in the Tri-Cities to get community input from local educators on how the new four-year Perkins Grant Plan will be used to fund career technical education (CTE) programs.

The Perkins Grant provides federal money for CTE programs.

Michael Tinsley, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Success at the Tennessee Board of Regents, said these town halls help create a relationship between industries, businesses and educators.

“This type of environment tonight allows business and industry to give comments like we’ve heard tonight,” Tinsley said. “That then starts a relationship with those educators, so that we can get them more involved in how our students are being educated and prepared for a high skilled workforce.”

Vanessa Price, Coordinator of the Perkins Grant at Northeast State Community College (NESCC), said these town halls are important so the community can see how federal money benefits the local workforce. She said many students are already taking CTE dual enrollment courses at NESCC.

“They can join a career academy where they can receive a certificate in an advanced technology field or even in a business field such as entrepreneurship,” Price said.

NESCC works with local industries that hires students from their CTE programs.

“They are looking for students who have been properly trained that have a certain skill set that have potentially credentials, certificates, degrees, diplomas or whatever,” Price said. “And we hope to be instrumental in providing that steady stream.”

The Perkins Grant for CTE programs can start being used as early as the 5th grade.

“If our fifth grade students, if they know that it’s a regular thing to see a male nurse,” Tinsley said. “Then those students learned that from a young age and seeing that throughout their elementary and middle school and high school years, then they will think, ‘oh, okay, it’s okay for me to be a nurse even if I’m a guy.’ Likewise for females, if they happen to realize that there are female welders and they see them and they’re in front of them and they see them on a regular basis, then it becomes normal.”

Tinsley said it’s important for students to be exposed early to CTE opportunities to figure out what they want to pursue. He said figuring out what skill sets they have is important as well.

“If somebody is good at math, then there’s a certain subset of occupations they would be good at,” Tinsley said. “If they’re good at helping people, then there’s a certain subset of skills that that would apply to what they’re going to do as an occupation. If I’m good with helping people, welding may not be what I want to be, maybe I want to be a nurse.”

Tinsley said many parents don’t realize what all CTE programs entail.

“A lot of times if you have a conversation with the parents and you talk about an automotive shop, they think of a greasy floor, very dirty environment and that’s not what automotive technology is anymore,” Tinsley said. “You have pristine places like Nissan, Toyota, and so forth, where it’s very clean environmentally. It’s an entire atmosphere of different things that go on there.”

The input from town halls across Tennessee and other states will be submitted to the U.S Department of Education. Then a new four-year plan will be made from that input which will go into effect July 1, 2024.

High schools can apply to the Tennessee Department of Education for the Perkins Grant funding and post secondary institutions can apply to the Tennessee Board of Regents.