TN community colleges see highest graduation rate

The College System of Tennessee has seen a growth in enrollment and Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect participants, as well as the highest graduation rate recorded. Enrollment in the College System has grown slightly, with 88,352 students enrolled in community colleges in the system, according to the preliminary numbers.

Numbers were announced at the Board of Regents committee meetings. Those numbers could slightly change throughout the semester, but show an increasing enrollment since 2016, according to Executive Vice Chancellor for Policy and Strategy Russ Deaton. “That downward trend we’ve seen has turned around,” Deaton said, adding that he predicted enrollment would continue to grow. Nationwide, enrollment in community colleges has been decreasing since 2010, according to a report from Inside Higher Ed. When the Great Recession ended and the national unemployment rate began falling, fewer people were attending two-year colleges.

Highest three-year graduation rate

The College System of Tennessee has also recorded the highest three year graduation rate in the history of the system. The three-year graduation rate tracks first-time, full-time freshmen through the summer of their third year and counts who graduates.

The graduation rate for the 2015 to 2018 group was 23.7 percent, which is a 10.1 percentage point growth from the 2010 to 2013 rate. Deaton said that while an increased graduation rate is a success, there are still challenges.

Deaton said the graduation rate tracks graduation of first-time, fulltime freshman, and many of the students enrolled in community colleges do not fall into that category. He said there is also a gap in the graduation rate when broken down by race “that needs to be addressed.”

With higher enrollment and graduation rates, the system has also seen an 82 percent increase in the number of awards given from 2009 to 2018.

In 2009, there were 8,370 awards (associate’s degrees and certificates) given.

In 2018, that had in- creased to 15,240 awards given.

“This is the product of years and years of hard work,” Deaton said.

Tennessee Promise, Reconnect participants higher

According to preliminary enrollment numbers, the College System of Tennessee also has higher numbers of Tennessee Reconnect and Tennessee Promise participants this year.

The number of Tennessee Reconnect students outnumber the number of Tennessee Promise students, with almost 14,700 Reconnect participants and over 14,500 Promise participants.

Participants in Tennessee Promise have also become more diverse, according to Amy Moreland, Director of Policy. The number of black, Hispanic and underrepresented minorities participating in Tennessee Promise in the system have all increased since 2015.

“As Promise participation has increased, the makeup has grown slightly more diverse,” Moreland said. The Board of Regents also formally adopted increased Drive to 55 goals for the system. The new goals were created after conversations with Gov. Bill Haslam about the system’s success with Drive to 55, Deaton said.

The new goals will add 26,667 award recipients by 2025, or an annual increase of 2,963 award recipients for the system. The goals for the system are now 14,895 awards given annually and 134,055 total awards for the time period of 2017- 2025. “At this point, Reconnecters outnumber Tennessee Promise, which is quite extraordinary,” Deaton said.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Monica Kast

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Published September 28, 2018