NASHVILLE – Tennessee voters overwhelmingly agree that earning a postsecondary degree or technical certificate is essential for economic success, according to survey results released today by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE).

The poll asked 500 registered Tennessee voters a series of questions about K-12 and postsecondary education in the state. As has been true in SCORE surveys since 2015, voters identified education as one of the top issues facing state government, ranking below health care but above jobs and the economy.

Continuing another trend from previous SCORE polls, a large majority of voters say it is important to conduct annual statewide assessment of students and to use the assessment’s student achievement and growth measures to hold K-12 schools accountable and in teacher evaluations. Nearly eight out of ten of those surveyed support increased school accountability, and a majority would be less likely to support a legislator who voted against more accountability.

“Not only is student testing viewed as very important, but Tennessee voters are strongly supportive of using year-to-year academic growth of students as part of evaluating teacher and school performance,” pollster Robert Blizzard of Public Opinion Strategies said.

When asked their views of the highest level of education needed to be successful in today’s economy, a total of 72 percent responded with either a four-year degree (29 percent), a technical certificate (27 percent) or a two-year degree (16 percent). Less than a quarter of those surveyed felt a high school diploma was enough for economic success. The poll also found strong approval of vocational training, community college, and career and technical education.

“Tennesseans understand that a rewarding career now requires education beyond high school, and they support a wide range of options, from Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology to state community colleges and four-year universities,” SCORE President and CEO David Mansouri said. “SCORE has recently expanded its mission to encompass student success from the time they start kindergarten until they begin their careers, and this survey confirms that Tennesseans want our students to have multiple paths to adult success.”

More than 80 percent of survey respondents said they were more likely to support state legislators who voted to make a college education more affordable and accessible, and the four-year-old Tennessee Promise program, which enables recent high school graduates to attend community college tuition-free, was viewed favorably by 46 percent and unfavorably by only 6 percent.

When asked to define the purpose of postsecondary education, 52 percent of those surveyed said it was to prepare students for a career, while 21 percent said it was for students to expand their horizons and learn new things, 18 percent cited preparing students to be civically engaged and productive citizens, and 7 percent said it was all of the above.

“It’s clear that Tennesseans agree that it is essential to prepare all students to succeed in college, career, and life,” Mansouri said. “To achieve that goal, SCORE is working to drive the needed changes that will better align K-12 and postsecondary education and better prepare students to thrive economically, civically, and personally.”

Other key findings from the survey include:

  • 58 percent of voters think things in Tennessee are headed in the right direction. Gov. Bill Lee’s approval rating was 61 percent and the General Assembly’s approval rating was 53 percent.
  • 69 percent support continuing to use TNReady in Tennessee schools. Following a successful spring administration of the assessment, support for TNReady has risen 10 points since the SCORE poll of September 2018.
  • When voters were asked to choose one priority for education funding, 37 percent chose a pay raise for teachers, 31 percent selected improving workforce readiness, 23 percent cited improving Tennessee’s literacy rate, and 8 percent named giving parents more choices of where to send their children to school.
  • 75 percent favor increasing choice in public schools with charter or magnet schools.
  • 32 percent of those surveyed were not familiar with the four-year-old Tennessee Promise program, indicating a need to build understanding of Tennessee’s signature initiative to improve access to postsecondary education and raise degree attainment.

POLL METHODOLOGY: On behalf of SCORE, Public Opinion Strategies conducted a Tennessee statewide survey of 500 registered voters September 23-25, 2019. The margin of error is +/- 4.4 percentage points. Landline interviews accounted for 50 percent of the sample and cell phone interviews 50 percent. Geography by county and media market were matched to previous statewide elections. Participating voters in the survey are representative of registered voters in Tennessee. Respondents were randomly selected from lists of known registered voters who had previously voted in a general election.

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