Leadership Team

Mike KrauseMike Krause, Executive Director

Executive Director

Mike Krause was appointed as the executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) and Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC) by Governor Bill Haslam in August 2016. 

Prior to assuming this role, he served as the founding executive director of the Tennessee Promise and Drive to 55, where he coordinated the launch of the nation’s first free community college program and an array of other programs focused on increasing state higher education attainment.

Previously, Mike served as the assistant executive director at the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, leading a variety of initiatives within the Academic Affairs Division. 

Krause also served for eight years in the United States Army, where he completed three combat tours with the 101st Airborne Division. An eighth generation Tennessean, Mike earned his bachelor’s degree from Austin Peay State University and Master’s degree in Public Policy from Vanderbilt University.

Russ DeatonRuss Deaton

Deputy Executive Director and Associate Executive Director for Policy, Planning, and Research

Russ Deaton is the Deputy Executive Director and Associate Executive Director for Policy, Planning, and Research of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.  He began at THEC in 2000 as a policy analyst and later served nine years as the Director of Fiscal Policy Analysis. In addition to his responsibilities as the organization’s chief fiscal officer, his policy work has included the development of higher education funding formulae, tuition policy and financial aid research. He has designed several higher education finance policy tools for state government including a tuition model and most recently the outcomes-based funding formula, the first of its kind in the nation.

In 2006, he received his PhD from Vanderbilt University where he studied the public policy adoption process in state government. Since 2007, he has served as an adjunct faculty member at Vanderbilt, teaching courses in Higher Education Finance, Public Policy and Policy Economics and was recently honored with Distinguished Adjunct Faculty Member Award from Vanderbilt’s Peabody College for the 2014-2015 academic year. 

Scott SloanScott Sloan

Chief of Staff and General Counsel 

Scott Sloan is the Chief of Staff and General Counsel for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. In addition to his duties as Chief of Staff, he is responsible for managing the agency’s legal and contracting functions, external affairs, and communications. Scott also represents THEC to the Tennessee General Assembly during the legislative session. In his time at the agency, he has collaborated closely with the legislature and other stakeholders in developing several key higher education initiatives. He assisted on the 2013 development of the Labor and Education Alignment Program (LEAP) as well as the 2014 passage of the Tennessee Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Act.

Before coming to THEC in 2012, he was the Director of Policy and Research for the Tennessee Secretary of State’s Office. Prior to that position, he was appointed by Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey to serve as the Chief Engrossing Clerk of the Tennessee Senate. In this role, he was an officer of the Senate, enrolled legislation for signature into law, and published the annual Senate Journal. Scott is a licensed attorney and graduate of both Western Kentucky University and the Nashville School of Law.

Peter AbernathyPeter Abernathy

Senior Associate Executive Director and General Counsel

Peter Abernathy oversees TSAC’s legal and compliance division. including TSAC’s contracts, legislative affairs, rulemaking, and oversight of institutional compliance with the state’s grant and scholarship programs. Peter also provides assistance in coordinating the management of TSAC’s loan, outreach, and grant and scholarship divisions.

Prior to coming to TSAC in 2008, Peter worked in the Department of Finance and Administration’s Budget Division for 12 years as the coordinator of K-12 and Higher Education’s budgets. He earned a B.A. in English from the University of Tennessee, a Master’s in Public Administration from North Carolina State University, and a J.D. from the Nashville School of Law.

Jason Cavender

Chief Financial Officer

Jason Cavender  oversees  the THEC/TSAC’s Division of Business and Finance, including  accounting, human resources and information technology functions.  Financial management responsibilities for the THEC/TSAC combined budget is over $400 million and includes funds for general operating expenses and the Tennessee Lottery for Education program.  In addition to these responsibilities, he serves as the liaison between the higher education governing boards and the Legislature regarding any legislation having a financial impact in Tennessee.

Prior  to  coming  to  THEC/TSAC  in  2004,  Jason worked  in  the  Department  of  Finance  and Administration’s Budget Division for 6 years as the K-12 and Higher Education analyst. He earned a B.S. in History from Austin Peay State University and a M.Ed. from Tennessee State University.

Stephanie Bellard ChaseStephanie Bellard Chase, Ph.D.

Associate Executive Director for the Division of Postsecondary State Authorization

Stephanie Bellard Chase is the Associate Executive Director for THEC’s Division of Postsecondary State Authorization (DPSA). DPSA is charged with providing for the protection, education and welfare of the citizens of this state, its postsecondary educational institutions, and its students. DPSA’s key functions include authorization of new institutions and programs; implementation and administration of the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA); consumer protection, including the investigation of student complaints; performing audits and site visits; reauthorization and renewal of institutions; administering institution closings; enforcing relevant statutes and regulations; collecting statistical data and generating related reports.

Stephanie has previously served on the Curriculum Revision Committee of the Psychology Department in the School of Education at Tennessee State University. Her background also includes 17 years of experience teaching and instructing graduate, medical, undergraduate and adult basic education students; program planning, development and supervision in the not-for-profit sector; along with experience in monitoring program operations and budget expenditures of federal and state funded programs. Stephanie holds a B.A.in Psychology and M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Fisk University. She received a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Tennessee State University.

Ann CollettAnn Collett

Director of Internal Audit for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation

Ann Collett is the Director of Internal Audit for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation. In addition to reporting to the Executive Director, Ann reports to and coordinates the activities of the THEC/TSAC Audit Committee. Ann consults and works with staff on processes, internal controls, financial issues, the annual risk assessment and special projects. She prepares an annual audit plan and reviews different areas throughout the year. She works with external state and federal auditors and coordinates with management on finding responses and implementation.

Ann began her career with the State of Tennessee in 1985 with the Comptroller of the Treasury, Division of State Audit. She served as the Director of Internal Audit at Nashville State Community College from 1992-2000. She was Financial Oversight Coordinator at the Department of Finance and Administration until joining THEC and TSAC in 2009. Ann holds a B.B.A. in Accounting from Lambuth College and an M.B.A. from Tennessee State University. Ann is also a Certified Public Accountant and a Certified Government Financial Manager. Ann is a member of the Nashville Chapter of the Association of Government Accountants and has served in several leadership positions, including chapter president.

Lauren CollierLauren Collier

Director of Institution and Board Affairs

Lauren Collier is the Director of Institution and Board Affairs for THEC. In this role, she supports state universities as they transition to independent governing boards as empowered by the Focus on College and University Success (FOCUS) Act. The FOCUS Act provides universities greater flexibility and autonomy in pursuing Drive to 55 goals. Lauren will also act as a resource to the university governing boards, including providing guidance and professional development to members of the boards.

Prior to joining THEC, Lauren served as Executive Assistant to the President at Volunteer State Community College. She entered higher education through community engagement, starting the Center for Civic Engagement at the College of Charleston and expanding efforts to the state level as the first Executive Director of South Carolina Campus Compact, an organization of college presidents committed to the civic mission of higher education. In 2013, she received her PhD from the Institute of Higher Education at the University of Georgia. Her doctoral work explored innovations in teaching and learning, liberal arts colleges as organizations, and women in academic leadership. She gained practical experience working in the offices of the President, Vice-Provost, and Vice President for Public Service and Outreach. Lauren earned a B.S. from Birmingham-Southern College and a Master of Social Work from the University of Alabama.

Kate DerrickKate Derrick

Director of External Relations

Kate Derrick is the Director of External Relations. She manages THEC’s communications strategies, public relations efforts, and media engagement. Her work includes development of outreach campaigns focused on increasing postsecondary attainment rates in Tennessee. In this capacity, she works closely with Office of Governor Bill Haslam on outreach around the Drive to 55 initiatives, including Tennessee Reconnect and Tennessee Promise, and she ensures that all of the agency's external-facing projects align with the state’s educational attainment goals. She was most recently the Director of Communications for THEC’s college access programs and has significant experience in using market research and data to shape effective outreach campaigns.

Kate came to Tennessee after working as a communications strategist and project manager for tech startups and social entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. She holds a B.A. in Political Science from Wellesley College and an M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College.

Jessica GibsonJessica Gibson

Assistant Executive Director of Adult Learner Initiatives

Jessica Gibson is the Assistant Executive Director of Adult Learner Initiatives. In this capacity, Jessica leads THEC’s initiatives that focus on increasing education attainment rates among adults, including those who started college but did not complete a degree or credential. Through this work, contributes to strategic planning on Governor Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiatives, including Tennessee Reconnect, the component of the initiative focused on adult learners. Jessica administers several grant projects focused on college productivity and completion of adult students, business and higher education engagement, student advising, and prior learning assessment initiatives.

Prior to joining THEC, Jessica served six years as a policy analyst for the Offices of Research and Education Accountability, a division within the Tennessee State Comptroller’s office, before serving as a policy advisor for former Governor Phil Bredesen. Jessica holds a B.A. from Centre College and an M.A. in International Development Studies from The George Washington University.

Troy GrantTroy Grant

Associate Executive Director for College Access and Success

Troy Grant serves as Associate Executive Director for College Access and Success at the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. In this capacity, he oversees THEC’s Office of P-16 Initiatives which is charged with the development and implementation of statewide college access and success programs, including GEAR UP TN, Path to College Events, Tennessee’s College Access Challenge Grant, CollegeforTN.org, Tennessee's electronic transcript exchange, and the Memphis-based Latino Student Success program. The Office of P-16 Initiatives also works closely with the Governor’s Office on implementation of the Drive to 55, particularly on outreach around Tennessee Promise and other programs to increase the college-going rate in the state.

Troy has eight years of higher education administration, admissions, and college access policy experience and serves on the National GEAR UP Advisory Commission and the executive committee of the College and Career Readiness Evaluation Consortium. Mr. Grant earned the Bachelor of Business Administration and Master of Business Administration from Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, TN.

Emily HouseEmily House

Assistant Executive Director of Policy, Planning, and Research

Emily House is Assistant Executive Director of Policy, Planning and Research for THEC. In this capacity, Emily develops and executes THEC’s research agenda, investigating issues in higher education related to access, affordability, retention, and completion. Her team publishes the set of annual legislative reports for which THEC is responsible, and responds to requests from legislators and policymakers for data and information. Emily facilitates THEC’s involvement with the Tennessee Longitudinal Data System, and works very closely with Governor Haslam’s staff to project take-up and evaluate the effects of various Drive to 55 initiatives, including SAILS and the Tennessee Promise.

Emily is an alumna of Teach for America, having taught social studies and special education to high school students in St. Louis, Missouri. She holds degrees in public policy from Cornell University, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Michigan, and has a PhD in education from the University of Michigan.

Betty Dandridge JohnsonBetty Dandridge Johnson

Associate Executive Director for Academic Affairs

Betty Dandridge Johnson is the Associate Executive Director for Academic Affairs. In this capacity, Betty serves as the Chief Academic Officer and provides statewide leadership to develop, coordinate, and monitor academic planning. Other division- wide responsibilities include the development and evaluation of the Quality Assurance Funding program and implementation of grant projects to support teacher education programs and student success. The Division of Academic Affairs also works closely with the Department of Education to align K-12 with higher education.

Prior to joining THEC, Betty served as the Institutional Effectiveness Officer at Middle Tennessee State University and was responsible for university-wide assessment and effectiveness of academic programs and administrative units. Her other higher education experience includes the University of Kentucky Community College System, Tennessee Board of Regents and Meharry Medical College. Betty’s interests in higher education, specifically, assessment and accountability spans for two decades where she has integrated policy formulation and implementation from all perspectives (coordinating agency, governing board and campus). Betty holds a B.A. from Grinnell College and an M.S. from Vanderbilt University.

Diane LeJeuneDiane LeJeune

Associate Executive Director for Communication Services

Diane LeJeune is the Associate Executive Director for Communication Services for the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation. In this capacity, Diane leads TSAC’s communication team by providing oversight of the extensive outreach efforts to high school students and their parents, as well as high school counselors and financial aid administrators across Tennessee. Through this work, the Communication Services staff contributes to the advancement of Governor Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiatives, including the Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect. TSAC’s Communication Services is additionally responsible for marketing, publications, social media, and the call center for all financial aid programs administered by the state of Tennessee.

In her nearly 30 years of higher education administration experience, Diane served as Director of Admissions, Director of Financial Aid, Director of Student Financial Services and Residence Hall Director on four college campuses in Tennessee and in California. Diane holds a B.S. in Organizational Management from Hope International University and a M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration from Middle Tennessee State University.

Tom MorrisonTom Morrison

Assistant Executive Director of Veterans Affairs

Tom Morrison is the Assistant Executive Director of Veterans Education, a division also known as the Tennessee State Approving Agency (SAA). He and his division approve and monitor all types of postsecondary schools for veterans training, ensuring that their programs meet federal, state, and local regulations. As Tennessee’s SAA, the division promotes and safeguards quality education and training programs for all veterans and other eligible persons; ensures greater education and training opportunities to meet the changing needs of veterans; and protects the GI Bill® resources available for those programs. THEC’s Division of Veterans Affairs also approves and monitors apprenticeship and on-the-job training programs.

Prior to joining THEC, Tom was the Assistant Director for Veterans Affairs at Austin Peay State University for five years, and prior to that served twenty-three years in the U.S. Navy. Tom holds a B.S. from Austin Peay State University and an M.S. in Higher Education Administration from Old Dominion University.

Jane PenningtonJane Pennington

Associate Executive Director for Student Loan Programs

Jane Pennington is the Associate Executive Director for Student Loan Programs. In this capacity, Jane leads TSAC’s projects that focus on student loan programs.   Prior to rejoining TSAC in 2009, Jane had served for over 30 years in the student financial assistance arena. Just prior to returning to TSAC she was the principal for 12 years of The Penn Group, a student finance consulting group, working with schools, loan servicers, guarantee agencies and the U.S. Department of Education around the country.    

Over the years, Jane has participated actively in and conducted seminars, workshops and training sessions for TSAC, TASFAA, and SASFAA. Jane has served in many leadership roles with these professional student loan/financial aid associations and organizations. She served as President of the Tennessee Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (TASFAA) in 1995-96 and has served as Chair of many of the various committees within the association. Jane served on the National Council of Higher Education Resources (NCHER) Board of Directors for 2012-13, and was the 2014-15 Chair of the Unified Student Loan Policy Common Manual Governing Board.  She still serves on the CM Governing Board.  In April 2015, Jane was the recipient of the TASFAA Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor in TASFAA. Jane earned her B.A. from Belmont University and completed her graduate studies at the University of Victoria.

Tim PhelpsTim Phelps

Associate Executive Director for Grant & Scholarship Programs

Tim Phelps is the Associate Executive Director for Grant & Scholarship Programs. He oversees the Grants & Scholarships Division and is responsible for administration of the state’s financial aid programs. These include the state’s merit-based program, the HOPE Scholarship, the Tennessee Student Assistance Award (TSAA), the state’s need-based grant, and the Tennessee Promise Scholarship. In the 2014-15 academic year, the Grants & Scholarships Division disbursed just under $370 million in financial aid for over 104,000 students.

Prior to joining TSAC, Tim was employed by the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority for 11 years most recently serving as the Student Aid Branch Manager. Tim holds a B.S. from the University of Kentucky.

Laura StewartLaura Stewart

Director of Human Resources

Laura Stewart is the Director of Human Resources for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation. Laura provides policy advice and technical assistance on matters such as Americans with Disability Act, Equal Employment Opportunity, employee relations, benefits, recruiting, training, performance evaluations, and personnel actions.

Laura began her career with the State of Tennessee in 1992 at the Department of Human Resources. She served in the Department of Human Resources for ten years in the examinations division, classification/compensation division, and applicant services division. She was a personnel manager with the Department of Environment & Conservation for four years. From 2006 until joining THEC/TSAC in 2009, Laura worked with the Department of Finance & Administration’s Edison team as an HR module lead to implement the Edison system. Laura has a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in Human Resource Management from Western Kentucky University and is certified as a senior professional in human resources.

David WrightDavid L. Wendell Wright

Chief Policy Officer, Tennessee Higher Education Commission

David L. Wright is the Chief Policy Officer for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. In this role, he routinely advises the governor's staff, legislature and campus leaders on policy matters related to higher education. His office also provides research reports and statistical data to system leaders, college presidents, campus personnel and the public. He is the primary architect of the 2010‐2015 Public Agenda for Tennessee Higher Education, which identified educational attainment as the state's most pressing need vis‐à‐ vis higher education and established degree production goals for the state and its higher education systems consistent with institutional mission. The Public Agenda set the stage for a public higher education funding formula that allocates almost all of each institution’s state support on the basis of student outcomes.

Prior to coming to Tennessee in August 2006, Wright served as senior research analyst for the State Higher Education Executive Officers, where he developed the State Higher Education Finance study, a national annual survey of state higher education appropriations, tuition revenues, enrollments and tax effort. Before entering the public policy arena, he served in several capacities on college campuses in Arkansas and Florida. He is a doctoral candidate at Florida State University.