The Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) System experienced major changes in 2017. Most of the change was prompted by the General Assembly’s approval of the Focus on College and University Success (FOCUS) Act in 2016. The FOCUS Act created new governing boards for each of the six public universities that had been under the Board of Regents’ oversight for 45 years. It also gave TBR a new laser-focus on Tennessee’s 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology.

Over the past year, TBR and its new Chancellor, Dr. Flora W. Tydings have re-envisioned, restructured, and reorganized the old TBR System into a unified community and technical college system whose mission is focused on student success and workforce development. The new College System of Tennessee entered 2018 a vastly different system than it was at the dawn of 2017.

• Chancellor Tydings and the board established a new Office of Student Success, which complements the work of the existing Office of Academic Affairs. The two divisions work closely together to make sure that the broad array of nationally renowned, research-based student success initiatives developed at TBR are implemented on the system’s 40 campuses.
• To improve coordination between K-12 and higher education, the chancellor appointed Dr. Robert M. Denn as the new Associate Vice Chancellor for K-12 Initiatives.
• To carry out the system’s new emphasis on workforce development, the chancellor and board created a new Office of Economic and Community Development. The new division works closely with the state Department of Economic and Community Development, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, business, industry and local economic development agencies to ensure that the community and technical colleges are meeting the needs of Tennessee’s existing and prospective employers – and their future employees.

You’ll hear more about the important student success, workforce development, and academic initiatives underway in the year ahead. But of particular interest are the early success indicators of Tennessee Promise and Dr. Denn’s collaborative work with the Department of Education, local education agencies, and high schools.

Tennessee Promise – the first vehicle in the state’s Drive to 55 to ensure that 55 percent of working-age Tennesseans have some form of postsecondary degree or credential by 2025 – launched in the fall of 2015. The Tennessee Promise scholarship provides up to five semesters free of tuition and mandatory fees, and the initial 2015 class concluded its first four semesters last May.

TBR research released this past fall found a 58.3 percent success rate with the first cohort through those four semesters – meaning that 58.3 percent of the Promise students who entered college in the fall of 2015 had either earned an Associate’s degree or a technical program diploma or certificate, transferred to a four-year university, or remained in college for their fifth semester of Tennessee Promise eligibility on track toward a degree. That 58.3 percent is substantially better than the 44.6 percent success rate for their peers who did not enroll in Tennessee Promise.

TBR is now compiling results through the first cohort’s fifth semester, which concluded in December. “We have every reason to believe that it’s going to be great news,” Chancellor Tydings said. At the start of the fall semester, she encouraged every college president in the system to work with Promise students in their fifth and final semester of eligibility to help them complete their degrees.