Tennessee stands at a critical crossroads in education and workforce development. Our state has witnessed remarkable economic growth and job creation, presenting new opportunities for our students. We’ve also made important investments in student pathways, career preparation and workforce training. Despite this progress, a persistent concern remains: We aren’t yet adequately preparing all of our students to seize these opportunities and achieve economic independence.

Consider the data:

  • More than half of Tennessee’s jobs require some type of postsecondary training, yet less than half of Tennesseans have earned a postsecondary degree or credential. And we don’t know whether the credentials students are earning are supporting them to reach economic independence.
  • Just one-half of postsecondary credentials earned by students (between 2016 and 2018) were linked to a high-demand occupation.

While our recent polling shows that Tennesseans view career preparation as the primary purpose of postsecondary education, many young people doubt whether our current system prepares them to succeed in the job market and thrive in a career. Students must also navigate a complex maze of credential opportunities, with over 1 million options currently available.

To bridge this gap between education and career success, we need a vision of what success looks like — a clear set of expected outcomes that set students up to succeed when they enter the workforce.

Over the past several months, SCORE has embarked on a collaborative process to bridge that gap, engaging with education leaders, industry experts, student support organizations and policymakers. Our goal has been to understand how degrees and credentials impact student outcomes and meet Tennessee’s workforce needs.

Together, we’ve examined models from other states, analyzed available data (and identified data gaps), and considered the ways that a Tennessee framework can create stronger education-to-work pathways and opportunities for our students. We’re excited to share some of those learnings and insights in a new memo released today: Building a Vision of Opportunity for All Tennesseans: Measuring Credential and Degree Outcomes.

Over the next several months, SCORE will continue working with stakeholders across the state to develop a recommended framework for quality credentials that will be released later this year.

As we continue this work, we invite you to imagine a Tennessee where every student has a clear path to a rewarding career. Where the credentials students earn are not just pieces of paper but tickets to economic independence and personal fulfillment. A Tennessee where our education system and workforce needs are aligned, each supporting the growth and success of the other.

This is the vision SCORE is committed to realizing. Tennessee has a track record of leading the nation when it comes to taking bold, innovative steps for students. It’s time to lead yet again and cast a vision for what we want to be true for Tennessee students, supporting them to earn the credentials and degrees that place them on the path to a career and greater economic independence. 

Together, let’s make this vision a reality. Because what matters most is our students’ success — and the bright future they will create for all of Tennessee.

David Mansouri is SCORE’s president and CEO.