Tennessee lawmakers took important steps during the 2022 legislative session to strengthen and invest in the state’s postsecondary system. Those actions pave the way for more students to earn a high-wage, high-demand credential and enter the workforce ready for the job on day one. Legislation to improve the state’s postsecondary system focused on three key strategies: connecting education and the workforce, expanding postsecondary affordability, and strengthening pathways to student success.

Connecting Education And Work

New legislation to build stronger connections between education and the workforce will benefit students and employers. Each Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) is now required to partner with a high school in its county to provide students access to early postsecondary opportunities, such as dual enrollment, dual credit, and middle college programs. This policy creates a framework for TCAT-high school partnerships across the state, giving students more career-connected learning opportunities through TCATs.

The General Assembly also invested over $200 million for TCAT facilities and equipment to reduce admission waitlists plus $18 million in a new Tennessee Entrepreneurial Science and Technology (TEST) Hub at the University of Tennessee, Martin. The TEST Hub will provide workforce-oriented learning through a partnership between TCATs and Dyersburg State Community College. These investments will allow institutions to provide more students with high-quality educational opportunities aligned to workforce needs.

Expanding Postsecondary Affordability

Cost can be a notable barrier to students seeking postsecondary training. Legislation passed this session increases the value of the HOPE Scholarship for students attending a university to $4,500 a year for the first two years and $5,700 for the last two years. It also increases the number of state-funded dual enrollment courses for high school students from four to five and opens TCAT dual enrollment funding to 9th graders. Another bill expands Tennessee Promise eligibility to high school students who graduate early.

In addition, the state budget fully funds the outcomes-based funding formula that rewards colleges and universities for improving student retention and graduate measures. This $90 million investment means the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) can avoid tuition increases at public colleges and universities for the 2022-23 academic year, making college more affordable for students.

Strengthening Pathways To Student Success

Policy aimed at improving persistence and completion is essential, and legislation strengthening dual admissions in Tennessee is a step in that direction. Dual admission allows student who meet admissions requirements for two colleges to be simultaneously admitted to both. The new law ties dual admissions to the Tennessee Transfer Pathways, allowing a student in a program of study where credits are fully transferable between a community college and a university to be admitted to both institutions at the same time. This will allow more students to successfully transfer from a community college to a university and complete their degree.

The state budget also includes items to expand student success pathways, investing an additional $14.5 million in KnoxPromise, a community partnership administered by tnAchieves that uses college coaching and research-backed strategies to help more students complete a postsecondary credential. An additional $250 million infrastructure investment for Tennessee State University will improve the academic and student life experience at the university — an important step in prioritizing student learning at one of the state’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Looking Forward

Most jobs in Tennessee require a postsecondary credential. During the latest legislative session, Tennessee lawmakers enacted bold new policies and invested significant resources so that more students entering the workforce have the training they need to be successful. SCORE is encouraged by these legislative advancements. By maintaining this focus on improving higher education in the years ahead, our state and our students can reap the benefits afforded by a postsecondary credential.

Bryce Warden is SCORE’s director of policy.

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