Education beyond high school, whether at a technical training program, a community college, or a four-year college or university, is a critical part of a successful future. According to Georgetown’s Center on Education and Workforce, college graduates are set to make 84 percent more over their lifetimes than high school graduates. In Tennessee, after a decade of K-12 and higher education policy reforms, nearly every Tennessee high school graduate now has the opportunity to pursue education at a community or technical college tuition-free. Still, too few of Tennessee students who go to college complete their postsecondary credential.

Moving forward on our new strategic plan, SCORE will work to ensure public education in Tennessee continues to deliver academic progress so that all students receive an excellent public K-12 education and earn a credential or postsecondary degree after high school. As students and educators across Tennessee go back to classrooms soon, there are three new strategic initiatives and noteworthy changes to law underway that SCORE has been supporting and learning about as we focus on increasing opportunity for students.

  • Accessing Early College and Career Experiences: Tennessee Public Chapter 274, a law passed in April of this year, requires school districts to notify students and parents of students enrolled in grades 9-12 of all early college and career experiences — such as dual enrollment courses — offered for each upcoming school year.

    Research shows that students who take dual enrollment courses have much higher postsecondary attainment rates, and there are significant positive effects on degree attainment for low-income and first-generation college students. Still, we know that less than half of Tennessee students enrolled in an early postsecondary opportunity during the 2017-18 academic year, and less than 30 percent of eligible low-income students participate in early postsecondary opportunities (EPSOs). Almost every district in Tennessee offers at least one EPSO course, and most districts offer multiple course offerings, but state data show us that equity gaps exist between students who enroll in EPSOs and students who do not enroll. More readily available information about course offerings is a first step in increasing overall enrollment and access.
  • Prioritizing STEM Education: The Future Workforce Initiative in the state budget allots $4 million, partially recurring and partially nonrecurring state dollars, focused on Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) to launch new career and technical education programs focused in STEM fields. In addition, the program will grow the number of teachers qualified to teach work-based learning and advanced computer science courses. The initiative prioritizes STEM in early college and career experiences for Tennessee students.
  • Enhancing Community-Based Initiatives: Tennessee Public Chapter 203 will create the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) program, which will include student grants and community grants. Student grants include funding from the Tennessee Lottery for Education Account for four career and technical education dual enrollment courses aligned to state and local workforce needs. The community grants will facilitate alignment of education and workforce through a $25 million competitive grant process. New partnerships among K-12 education, community and technical colleges, industry partners, and economic and workforce development agencies will submit applications to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission in which they will set goals and pursue collaborative strategies to address skills gaps in local communities and drive new industry to the state.

We have work ahead to ensure all Tennessee students can successfully enter and exit the postsecondary pipeline to achieve a bright future. Creating more equitable access for early college and career experiences, prioritizing STEM education, and enhancing community-based partnerships seem like impactful areas to start.

Samantha Gutter is senior director of strategic initiatives at SCORE.