The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) has released Going Higher: Recommendations For Increasing Postsecondary Completion And Student Success In Tennessee, a report that examines Tennessee’s previous work to increase postsecondary degrees and offers strategies for helping more students who enter higher education to complete their degree or credential.

Citing the economic, racial, and geographical barriers to higher education that exist — and have been accelerated and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic — the report urges that Tennessee enact policies that reflect how students’ lifetime success and postsecondary completion are inextricably linked.

During the online report release, Sen. Bill Frist, M.D., former U.S. Senate Majority Leader and founder of SCORE, pointed to the wide gap in Tennessee college completion rates that exists between White (54 percent), Black (35 percent), Hispanic (46 percent) and Pell-eligible students (41 percent).

“Tennessee is fortunate to have a solid foundation of higher education policy already in place with the Complete College Tennessee Act and the Tennessee Promise Scholarship. Yet, it is clear from the data that we as a state have much more work to do to ensure every Tennessee student can both access and complete college,” said Frist.

The Going Higher report outlines the following recommendations:

• Focus on student equity in goal-setting, reporting, and data transparency. The report calls for a statewide goal to increase higher education completion rates for Black, Hispanic, and Pell-eligible students and achieve the same rate for all student groups by 2035. The report urges rewarding institutions for increasing completers who are Black or Hispanic and strengthening public reporting on student outcomes.

• Align Tennessee’s postsecondary system to the future of the workforce. Citing unique regional workforce needs, the report recommends developing a statewide education-workforce alignment plan that prioritizes high-quality credentials and creating a Governor’s Certificate for Future Readiness to recognize outstanding progress. The report also calls for regional advisory councils to coordinate work among key players in education and workforce development and to improve local access to state data.

• Reinvent credential delivery for Tennessee public higher education. The report endorses a reimagining of how credits are awarded to students and urges colleges and universities to shift away from classroom seat time to instead focus on student mastery and competency.

• Increase student success with Tennessee Transfer Pathways (TTP). Pointing out that most TTP students do not complete credentials on time, the report recommends increasing the Tennessee Promise award for students on a pathway and to incentivize institutions to increase the number of TTP completers.

• Maintain momentum for student success. The report calls for a first-to-finish initiative that supports institutions to adopt research-backed completion strategies for removing completion barriers that now exist in Tennessee Promise, and investment in better college and career advising that includes flexible options, both virtual and in-person.

During an online event, SCORE presented these recommendations to state officials, business leaders, educators, students, and others. In addition to Frist, presenters included SCORE President and CEO David Mansouri, and SCORE Chief Postsecondary Impact Officer Dr. Russ Wigginton.

“Despite the incredible progress our state has made since the Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010 and the Tennessee Promise Scholarship Act of 2014 to boost college access and to incentivize college completion — Tennessee students are still not doing as well as students in the rest of the nation in earning degrees and credentials,” Mansouri said.

During the presentation, Wigginton highlighted the need to increase student support to increase student success.

“We must work to center equity in all that we do, so that one’s economic status, geographic location, or racial or ethnic status are no longer the predictors of credential or career attainment in our state,” said Wigginton. “We must make higher education a bridge to great careers because too many lives and careers are going unfulfilled. We must secure Tennessee’s economic future because too many opportunities for our state are being missed.”

Other speakers during the event included Governor Bill Lee; University of Tennessee President Randy Boyd; Dr. Nancy Dishner, president and chief executive officer of the Niswonger Foundation; Southwest Tennessee Community College President Dr. Tracy Hall; BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee President Dr. JD Hickey; Dr. Danette Howard, senior vice president and chief policy officer of the Lumina Foundation; Dr. Tim Renick, executive director of the National Institute for Student Success at Georgia State University; and Jamie Woodson, former chair of Tennessee Senate Education Committee and founder and CEO of Tristar Strategies.

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) works collaboratively with state, local and national partners to advance policies and practices for greater student success across Tennessee. We are an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan advocacy and research institution, founded in 2009 by Sen. Bill Frist, M.D., former U.S. Senate Majority Leader. SCORE measures success by the academic growth and achievement of Tennessee’s students. Learn more at tnscore.org.

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