From the 101st Airborne to Tennessee’s State Higher Education Leader: Meet Mike Krause

Like many of “today’s students” who are working adults and come from diverse backgrounds, Mike Krause had to fight for a degree.

An eighth generation Tennessean, Mike joined the U.S. Army at age 18 after spending six months attending a local community college. He served a total of eight years in the U.S. Army and Tennessee Army National Guard, where he completed three combat tours with the 101st Airborne Division and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Mike Krause pictured in Iraq during one of his three combat tours with the U.S. Army.

While in the Army, Mike started taking night classes one at a time. Then, at age 24, he returned to education as a full-time student seven days after leaving the military, taking a 21 credit-hour per semester course-load to finish his degree. Known today as a passionate advocate for helping all students including adult learners achieve their academic potential, Mike credits his military experience as helping him beat the odds as a non-traditional student: “Everything I had missed during my first attempt at college before the Army, I brought to the table because of the experiences I went through.”

After entering a career in public policy, Mike has risen to become executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. There, he has coordinated the launch of the nation’s first free community college program “Tennessee Promise” and the Drive to 55, a statewide initiative launched by Governor Bill Haslam designed to equip 55 percent of Tennesseans with a college degree or certificate by the year 2025.

One of Mike’s signature achievements in Tennessee has been refocusing state policy to open up opportunity for working adults and other non-traditional learners. The Tennessee Reconnect program has helped tens of thousands of adults with some credit, but no degree return to education and complete their studies.

If he could wave a magic wand to better serve students, Mike has three key changes he would make to federal policy:

  • Make today’s students the center of policy decisions.
  • Simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
  • Strengthen competency-based education to acknowledge skills and knowledge students already have.

Mike Krause is a member of the Higher Learning Advocates Champions Network, a group of forward-thinking state and local leaders devoted to improving quality, outcomes and affordability in postsecondary education. For more information, contact