We know that education beyond a high school diploma is critical to the future economic success of our state, to the future economic mobility of Tennesseans, and to ensuring Tennessee students can access great jobs that provide a pathway to a meaningful career. We have a lot to be proud of as a state in ensuring students are prepared for, can access, and enroll in college — from the Tennessee Promise, to higher K-12 academic standards, to expanded investments in our technical colleges and universities. There are educators, advisers, nonprofit partners, and postsecondary leaders who have done inspiring work to help students make the transition to college over the last two years. But the declining college-going rate numbers released today show that the COVID-19 pandemic and a changing economy have had a deeply concerning impact on students and their families, particularly for students of color. We have much more work to do. 

In the face of this alarming data, this moment should serve as a call to action for Tennesseans. What if we bring postsecondary education into high school so that more students are already on the path to a postsecondary credential or degree when they receive their high school diploma? What if we establish a readiness indicator that will tell all ninth graders, their families, and teachers where they stand on the path to postsecondary success and build closer data-sharing partnerships between school districts and community colleges? What if we accelerate efforts to support students from the moment they graduate high school to the first day of college? And what if we made higher education even more accessible through providing more completion grants to students with additional financial need, a common college application, and reduced waiting lists at our TCATs? These are all strategies that we know work for students, and many of them are underway in parts of our state. We should learn from, elevate, and build on these efforts and others that will help our state navigate the uncertainty the last two years have brought to students moving through our education systems. 

Finally, and importantly, these data provide Tennessee leaders with an opportunity to come together and focus our attention and effort on helping our high school graduates make a successful transition from high school to the postsecondary destination that best suits them, whether that be to a TCAT, community college, or university. To make this vision a reality, Tennessee must renew and recommit to shared, bold goals for our state’s postsecondary going rate. SCORE stands ready to join with state and local partners in making a renewed postsecondary commitment; analyzing data to elevate leaders, districts, nonprofits, and institutions that are leading the way; and advancing bold new policies and practices that will help more students transition to college and help them complete. 

It’s time to act together and to act with urgency. 

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