Officials with the Southern Tennessee Higher Education Center (STHEC) met in September with University of Tennessee System President Randy Boyd and Martin Methodist College President Mark La Branche to discuss a partnership if Martin Methodist College (MMC) becomes the fourth undergraduate college within the UT System.
MMC and UT signed a nonbinding letter of intent Sept. 11 for the 150-year-old, private Methodist college to join the UT System. The partnership is in the due diligence phase and will require approval from the Tennessee state legislature, the boards of trustees at both institutions and regional accreditor Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
“If the partnership between Martin Methodist and UT is approved by both boards and the state, we expect UT to be a major partner with the Higher Education Center,” Boyd said. “I have visited the STHEC and was very impressed. Lawrence County has created an incredible facility, and we hope UT can make sure the educational opportunities equal the facility. I am thankful that the leaders of Lawrence County had the foresight to create this great facility.”
STHEC began in 2014 when a group of Lawrence County citizens dreamed of providing an opportunity for students to earn a bachelor’s degree locally. Partnerships were quickly formed with Columbia State Community College, Tennessee Technological University and Martin Methodist College, and plans were drawn up to create a new campus. Bringing a dream to fruition in rural Tennessee, Lawrence County began constructing the Southern Tennessee Higher Education Center — the first community-owned, collaborative college campus in the state.
“Our commitment to being a part of STHEC remains,” La Branche said. “The Center depends on accredited institutions to deliver instruction, and if our union with UT is approved, our partnership will expand and enhance STHEC’s capacity to serve southern Middle Tennessee. This will be a win-win for the entire region.”
“There is no limit to the enhancements that will benefit this Middle Tennessee region if the partnership of Martin Methodist and the University of Tennessee takes place. Just that these discussions are in process is a great tribute to those trustees, administrators, faculty and supporters of both institutions,” said Tim Pettus, chairman of the STHEC Board of Trustees. “The economic and development impact for this area is immeasurable, but the real winners will be the students who will benefit from an affordable education from one of the greatest universities in the country without leaving home.”