Postsecondary credentials increase the average salary for Tennesseans by about $18,000 a year, yet too few high school students — particularly those in historically underserved groups — have the chance to earn a credential after graduating from high school. Because postsecondary education is so important to career and life success, one of SCORE’s 2021 education priorities is to create equitable opportunities for Tennessee students to realize that success.

This fourth installment in our legislative recap series looks at the progress Tennessee has made in expanding college and career success for students as they transition from K-12 into postsecondary education. Let’s look at the bold steps taken in the first session of the 112th Tennessee General Assembly to increase college and career opportunities.

Legislation expands course opportunities to better prepare students for college and career

SCORE advocates for middle and high school students to have increased opportunities to enroll in rigorous coursework that aligns to their college and career interests. During this legislative session, SCORE supported three pieces of legislation that passed into law aligned to this priority:

  • Public Chapter 271 requires the Tennessee Department of Education to begin preparing students in middle school for a career and technical education (CTE) pathway by introducing career exploration opportunities. Additionally, local school districts must provide middle school students with information about available CTE courses that align with the student’s career aptitude assessment results. This law will ensure more students are aware of and participating in CTE courses in middle and high schools.
  • Public Chapter 536 increases the number of state-funded dual enrollment courses from two to four. Dual enrollment allows students to earn college credit while in high school, and research shows that participation in dual enrollment increases a student’s likelihood of going to and being successful in college.
  • Public Chapter 170 requires local boards of education to set objective enrollment criteria for advanced courses in science, English, and mathematics for 7th– through 12-graders. This will ensure that students who are ready have the opportunity to take and succeed in advanced courses.
A pilot completion grant program will provide support to Tennessee Promise students
  • Public Chapter 512 creates a four-year pilot completion grant program to provide additional financial aid to eligible Tennessee Promise students to cover nontuition expenses such as books or transportation. Based on community initiatives Knox Promise and NashvilleGRAD, these grants help students who face additional financial barriers toward finishing their degree.  
Legislation makes data accessible to students and families making postsecondary education decisions
  • Public Chapter 507, known as the Students’ Right to Know Act, requires a publicly available online platform of education and workforce data to help prospective students and families make informed decisions about enrolling in a postsecondary credential program. The data will include high-demand occupation data, average cost of attendance, student-level loan data, and average salary by degree type for graduates at Tennessee’s public colleges and universities.
Student-centered investments in postsecondary education
  • The legislature fully funded the outcomes-based funding formula, which rewards public colleges and universities for annual growth in student persistence and completion of certificates and degrees.
  • The state increased investments to support students with college and career advising and summer bridge programs through the Rural Education Initiative in partnership with the Ayers Foundation and through summer bridge programs in partnership with tnAchieves. These initiatives support students in the transition between high school and college.

Today, a postsecondary credential or degree is more essential for career and life success than ever before. The significant policy changes and investments accomplished during the first session of the 112th General Assembly will help more Tennessee students — especially those from historically underserved groups — realize career and life success through higher education.

Bryce Warden is senior policy associate at SCORE.

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