Across my career, I have been focused on helping students succeed in postsecondary education. Some of the proudest moments of my life have occurred watching students I have taught and mentored walk across a stage and hold their hard-earned diplomas in their hands. It was an honor to work as a professor and administrator at Rhodes College in Memphis and play a part in helping students achieve their dreams.

Tennessee has worked diligently for more than a decade to improve our education system for students. We are seeing stronger student achievement in elementary, middle, and high schools across the state, some of the fastest improvement in the nation. With a goal of having 55 percent of adults hold credentials or postsecondary degrees by 2025, Tennessee has led the nation in removing finances as a barrier to college completion with programs like Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect. We are getting more Tennessee students ready for and into postsecondary education. The next frontier is to give them the support to complete college and step into a good career.

I have joined SCORE as its first chief postsecondary impact officer because I am excited by the opportunity to work on behalf of students across our state and to help Tennessee set an example for the nation when it comes to postsecondary success for students. Earlier this year, SCORE broadened its mission, still putting student success first but now considering the full spectrum of student experiences from the time they begin school to the time they begin their careers. To support that broader mission, SCORE merged with Complete Tennessee.

I am making a transition as well, moving from a focus on the success of students at one college, Rhodes, to the success of all students from kindergarten to career. One of my first priorities will be focusing on building the relationships with leaders at colleges and universities, governing agencies, and other postsecondary organizations that are essential to addressing challenges facing our students. It will take thought leadership from people with experience in higher education, as well as perspectives from people who are not, to find the innovative approaches needed to solve some complex problems and improve college completion rates in Tennessee.

I’m also looking forwarding to helping develop the partnerships between higher education and K-12 education that will help us improve alignment across the spectrum so students are moving seamlessly from one to the other. I will work to ensure that we are keeping top of mind the real purpose of education, which is to prepare students to succeed as adults who have rewarding work and are engaged citizens in all communities across Tennessee.

Maintaining a SCORE tradition of collaboration, I will be reaching out to many of you for your ideas as SCORE works to identify our postsecondary priorities. Our first focus is the first years of college because that is a time when students need the most support to persist. Would you please begin thinking now about what we can do to better address student needs during this crucial period of their education journey? If you have ideas, please email me so we can connect.

Tennessee has built a track record of success by setting bold goals, trying innovative approaches and putting the needs of students first.  I am confident our state can find the answers to ensure students receive the education that will prepare them to succeed not just in college but also in career and life.

Russ Wigginton is chief postsecondary impact officer at SCORE.