In 2019, SCORE expanded its focus to encompass student success across the education spectrum, including postsecondary education. The work ahead in ensuring each Tennessean earns a credential or degree follows a decade of significant postsecondary policy reform.
The last decade has been marked by remarkable progress in postsecondary education for Tennessee’s students. Tennessee leads without question, but relentless work remains to ensure all students have the opportunity to earn a credential, gain economic independence, and succeed in life.
Where We’ve Been: 2010 To Present
Between 2010 and 2020, Tennessee leaders took brave strides to provide students access to and success in postsecondary education. In 2013, the state set a goal: by 2025, 55 percent of the population will earn a postsecondary credential. Lawmakers passed a series of sweeping reforms that changed the postsecondary policy landscape in Tennessee. These policies are recognized nationwide as innovative, student-centered models. These are some of Tennessee’s core legislative reforms:
- The Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010 introduced many critical postsecondary reforms, including an outcomes-based funding formula that funds public colleges and universities based on retention and graduation outcomes, and more than 50 degree-specific transfer pathways between community colleges and universities.
- The Tennessee Promise Scholarship Act of 2014 created the Tennessee Promise Scholarship, a scholarship and mentorship program that covers the cost of tuition and fees and provides a volunteer mentor for students attending a community or technical college in the state.
- The Focus on College and University Success (FOCUS) Act of 2016 changed the state’s postsecondary governance structure, moving six state public universities out from the authority of the Tennessee Board of Regents to being governed by individual state university boards. And in 2018, the UT Focus Act restructured the University of Tennessee System to being governed by a smaller, twelve-member Board of Trustees.
- The Tennessee Reconnect Act of 2017 built on the Tennessee Promise program to offer community and technical college to adult students without a tuition and fees cost.
- The Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) Act of 2019 provides high school students with up to four dual enrollment courses that are workforce-aligned career and technical education courses.
Where We’re Going: Keeping The Momentum
In sum, state leaders and advocates have taken bold steps to ensure each student has opportunity to earn a postsecondary credential. The framework is set, but the momentum must continue to ensure student success and promote economic development. As SCORE begins its postsecondary work, three core areas of focus surface:
- Continued attention to student access and affordability. The College Board reports that students still face significant costs beyond tuition and fees in achieving a postsecondary credential. We must explore various avenues to keep postsecondary costs low for all students, particularly underserved student groups.
- Industry-aligned policy and programming. Postsecondary credentials should provide students with living wages and skills that are aligned to the state’s workforce demand, yet degree production is flat for many high-demand programs in Tennessee.
- An urgent recognition of student completion challenges. Presently, about half of students in the state’s postsecondary system complete a degree in six years. For students of color and low-income students, these graduation rates are lower. We must take bold steps to remove barriers to completion and ensure that once students embark on postsecondary education they are able to finish their course of study.
For postsecondary education advocates, it is an exciting time to be in Tennessee. But the momentum must continue to see that all students, no matter their background, have equitable opportunity to enjoy success in career and life.
Bryce Warden is SCORE’s senior postsecondary policy analyst.