Jackson State News Archives

Dec 23, 2013

Tennessee Receiving Grant To Boost College Degree Completions

Tennessee was named one of only three states selected to receive a grant valued at $1 million to increase on-time college completion rates.

The grant supports the state’s higher education reform efforts that help students finish a degree in two years from a community college and in four years from a university, saving time and money, and ensuring a higher rate of success.

The award enhances Governor Bill Haslam’s  “Drive to 55” initiative to encourage more Tennesseans to earn a college degree or workforce certificate.

“Currently, only 32 percent of Tennesseans have certificates or degrees beyond high school, and studies show that by 2025, that number must be 55 percent to meet workforce demands,” Gov. Bill Haslam said. “Our ‘Drive to 55’ initiative is focused on increasing the number of Tennesseans with post-secondary credentials, and this grant will support efforts to help students save time and money as they pursue their degrees.”

At most of Tennessee’s four-year schools, it takes students almost five years to earn a bachelor’s degree and almost four years to earn a degree at a two-year community college.

The three-year grant will come in cash and technical assistance from the Lumina Foundation for Education and in partnership with Complete College America. It will help the state’s community colleges and the six universities in the Tennessee Board of Regents system continue their efforts to create “Guided Pathways to Success.” The program is designed to help students, many of whom are overwhelmed by choice and too much flexibility in course offerings.

The GPS programs are highly structured and clearly sequenced degree plans that help students understand the best and shortest paths to get them to graduation and to earn a degree.  The programs will be designed by college advisers and faculty to ensure quality and value tailored to the campuses and their students.

The colleges will provide intensive advising, clear degree plans and paths of sequenced courses necessary for success; use predictive analytics technology to match students with the courses best suited for them; and then guarantee the courses will be available when needed to enable on-time graduation.

Students may also participate in cohort groups that move the same group of students along in the same schedule of courses to encourage learning communities, or block scheduling so students always know the hours when the courses they need are available. A variety of plans and programs are being developed as part of the GPS project.

“We know the longer it takes a student to finish a degree, the less likely it is that he or she will stay on the path to graduation,” said Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan. “If we are serious about increasing the number of Tennesseans with a certificate or degree, we need to do all we can to make sure students are successful when they enroll. The program this grant supports is designed to do that.”

The Tennessee Board of Regents governs six of the state’s regional public universities – Austin Peay State University, East Tennessee State University, Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee State University, Tennessee Tech University and the University of Memphis; all 13 of Tennessee’s community colleges; and the 27 colleges of applied technology across the state. The TBR has piloted some structured learning programs at the community colleges and pioneered the use of predictive analytics tools, both of which have demonstrated dramatic success among those students who chose to participate. The GPS program will eventually make participation automatic for everyone.

"The work being undertaken by Governor Haslam and the Tennessee Board of Regents represents some of the most substantial and sweeping reforms in American higher education to date," said Complete College America President Stan Jones. "These efforts, combined with the Drive to 55 initiative, strengthen the state's standing as a national leader in boosting college completion and unlock clear strategies for how Tennessee can address its workforce needs in the future. We look forward to working with Governor Haslam and Chancellor Morgan to ensure many more students have a clear pathway to graduation day."

The first year of the grant will involve planning to move successful programs to scale across the state and to develop a policy framework to support the GPS concept. By Fall 2016, most of the students in the most essential programs of study at most of the state’s public colleges and universities will be incorporating the GPS program.

“Tennessee will continue to be a national leader as we address the college completion crisis in this country,” said Haslam. “Our higher education systems have embraced these reform efforts, and we expect to see impressive results.”