By Lonnie Wilkey
McMINNVILLE — After graduating from high school, Jim Ramsey attended college for one semester, then joined the Navy Reserves. He planned to return to college later, but life happened as it often does and he didn’t return to college UNTIL decades after his high school graduation.
At the age of 67, when most men are retired and no longer thinking about college degrees, Ramsey learned about Tennessee Reconnect, an initiative of the state of Tennessee to help more adults return to higher education to learn new skills, advance in the workplace or fulfill a lifelong dream of earning a college degree.
Ramsey, director of missions for Central Baptist Association, based in McMinnville, also learned that he could apply for a Tennessee Reconnect Grant that would pay for an associate’s degree at one of Tennessee’s community colleges or offset the cost of an associate’s degree (excluding books) at a participating four-year public or private university.
He made some inquires, talked to a Tennessee Reconnect official and was making plans to attend Motlow State Community College’s McMinnville campus. Prior to his decision, Ramsey joined other directors of missions across the state on a trip to Israel sponsored by Union University and the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
While on the trip he visited with Union president Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver and former academic administrator Ernest Easley and discovered that Union participated in the Tennessee Reconnect Program.
After applying for admission to Union, Ramsey was accepted. He noted he had to pay the “small” difference in what Union charged and what Tennessee Reconnect allotted, but it was “worth it” for him to get his associate’s degree from Union.
Ramsey started his degree program in August of 2018, just a few weeks shy of his 68th birthday. The journey has been incredible, he said.
In addition to the typical college courses required for an associate’s degree, Ramsey selected the church leadership track which enabled him to take several biblical-based courses.
Ramsey, who entered the ministry in 1996 and served as pastor of First Baptist Church, Smartt, for 17 years has especially enjoyed his Bible courses. “I love learning and the more I learn, the more I want to learn,” he said.
He admitted he had some reservations when he decided to go back to school at age 67, especially when it came to English courses, noting that English was definitely not his best class during his high school days. So, it is understandable that he was especially proud of the “A” he received after his first English class at Union.
“I wish my high school English teachers could have seen that grade,” he laughed.
As to the challenges of attending college years after high school, he admitted it was an adjustment. “I had to change and structure my day to include homework and preparation for exams,” he said. But, it has been exciting, Ramsey added. “You’re never too old to learn.”
Ramsey chose to earn his degree entirely through online courses and that has worked into his schedule well, he said. He is appreciative of his professors who respond quickly to questions via e-mails. “They have been very helpful,” he affirmed.
His toughest class so far? It’s not even close — introduction to statistics and probability. “That almost ended my degree,” he laughed, “but my professor encouraged me and helped me along. I didn’t think I could pass but I did.”
As it stands now, Ramsey is set to graduate with his associate’s degree from Union in December, but he doesn’t plan to stop learning. A bachelor’s degree is next on his “to do” list.
In addition to helping him achieve a personal dream, Ramsey said the degree program is benefitting him as a director of missions.
“It has given me confidence and has reinforced that what I have taught for years is correct,” he said.
Ramsey is glad that he took the plunge and went back to college. “It was one of the best things I have done other than accept God’s call into the ministry.” B&R — For more information on Tennessee Reconnect, visit tnreconnect.gov.