Tennessee’s Community Colleges See Improvements in Graduation Rates

The Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR), which includes 13 public community colleges in the state, has struggled to increase graduation rates in previous years. That’s changed recently however, as the graduation rate has increased from 13.6 percent in 2010 to 25.4 percent.

At a recent board quarterly meeting, Russ Deaton, the board’s executive vice chancellor for policy and strategy, told board members that that number is projected to continue increasing with this year’s graduating class, “roughly doubling the rates in about six years,” Deaton said.

“The fruits of a lot of the labor that have occurred in the TBR system and across the state for the last 10 years are obviously showing in these numbers,” he added.

Graduation rates are a significant factor as the state continues to support community colleges. Free tuition programs for students such as the Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect programs are recruiting more students and state funding into the Tennessee system.

A school’s completion or graduation rate helps provide answers to questions like how well students are handling college-level courses and whether advisers are providing students with enough assistance and guidance on finishing their degrees.

In regard to the Tennessee Promise program’s success, the graduation rate showed more immediate improvement. Nearly 14 percent of full-time, first-time freshmen who began their studies in 2014 graduated within five semesters, according to Nashville Public Radio.

For full-time, first-time freshmen who started in 2016 and participated in the Tennessee Promise program, their graduation rate was almost 23 percent.

This is a notable increase, board member Barbara Prescott said at the meeting, adding that the system needs to aim even higher.

“Not to be a Debbie Downer, but I think we have to realize that when you’re looking at the community, and they’re seeing still a graduation rate of 22 percent, that’s nothing that anybody is celebrating,” Prescott said.

“Amen,” Deaton said in response.

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