At tnAchieves, we wake up every day focused on increasing the percentage of students accessing and completing college. After 13 years, this sentence continues to represent our North Star.

To accomplish this, we put students first. We seek to disrupt old norms and bureaucratic tendencies that prevent our students from realizing postsecondary success. We value teamwork and never shy away from the hard work.

We set Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs). We try A LOT of things and keep what works — a value we borrowed more than a decade ago from our corporate supporter, Radio Systems Corporation. We build and execute innovative programming designed for targeted student populations. And we not only focus on data — we make data-informed decisions.

Data provides our solid foundation. It is our through line. It benchmarks our work. It shows if we are making a dent in the universe. It tells us where we need more. For data-focused organizations like tnAchieves, data provides a roadmap.

SCORE’s recently released 2021 Higher Ed By the Numbers: The Tennessee Postsecondary Data Book presents consumable and action-oriented data. It tells the story of where we are and where we need to go. This report increases the transparency of higher education data by not only providing additional disaggregated data but also analysis that increases data accessibility. Often data can be intimidating and leave leaders scratching their heads on where to start or what questions to ask. The use of disaggregated data shines the light on significant gaps — gaps we must address.   

As part of the higher education ecosystem, it forces us to answer critical questions surrounding equity. It reinforces that while progress has been made over the last decade, much work remains to ensure that background, zip code, and race are no longer predictors of college success. It highlights that while Tennessee has made great strides in increasing access for our Black, Latinx, and Pell-eligible students, we lack the same momentum for college completion.

Data analysis demonstrating that more than half of Black students and students from low-income backgrounds are academically underprepared when entering community college is a call to action. SCORE’s Higher Ed By the Numbers report is not meant to sit stagnant on desks and bookshelves. It should spark hard conversations about investing in more student-focused programs. It demands that we make evidence-based change.

The COVID-19 pandemic provides us a unique opportunity to use this critical data to reimagine and reinvent areas where higher education simply does not work for ALL students. We should ask ourselves, “How can you see these metrics and not feel compelled to seek better outcomes for our students?” 

The tnAchieves team and I feel a deep responsibility for the nearly 90,000 students we serve annually. We believe supports matter. We also subscribe to the belief that if we meet each individual student where he/she is at scale, we move the state needle in college access and completion. This is only accomplished by constant evaluation via disaggregated data.

For a decade, Tennessee has led the way in higher education, beginning with the Complete College Tennessee Act. Applying SCORE’s data book, we are uniquely positioned to build momentum for scaling needle-moving programs and changing barrier-creating policies. Our students are depending on us — all of us — to level the playing field.

Krissy DeAlejandro is the executive director of tnAchieves.

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