November 25, 2018

Columbia Daily Herald: Report: Adult Students in TN Face Roadblocks

By Michael Christen

The majority of Tennessee’s adult students struggle with the financial burdens associated with higher education, according to a new report.

Nonprofit postsecondary advocacy organization Complete Tennessee, in partnership with the office of Nashville Mayor David Briley, released the report this month examining challenges facing adult postsecondary students in Middle Tennessee.

Complete Tennessee and Briley’s office found the majority of adult students struggle with the financial burdens associated with higher education, including tuition and fees, transportation costs, childcare, textbooks and course materials.

Developed with insight from 13 focus groups with 113 participants and a complementary anonymous survey, the Nashville Talent Hub Report aims to raise awareness of the barriers to higher education and encourage more robust discussion about opportunities to improve adult degree attainment.

Participating students also expressed concern about the lack of transportation options, hindering their ability to pursue a postsecondary credential while also managing work and family obligations.

Students also shared their struggles with a feeling of “belonging” and lack confidence to navigate the higher education system and enroll in the appropriate educational opportunities.

“We hope this report will inspire us to think differently about ways we can better support adult students in Middle Tennessee as they pursue the postsecondary credentials necessary to support a better quality of life for more citizens,” said Kenyatta Lovett, Complete Tennessee executive director.

“Tennessee has recognized the importance of helping more citizens access higher education and has made great efforts to reduce related financial barriers,” Lovett continued. “However, the Nashville Talent Hub report confirms that adult students face significant challenges beyond the cost of college, including uncertainty about navigating a postsecondary program and worries about ‘belonging’.

“We must invest in resources and community engagement initiatives designed to provide much-needed support to adult students,” he said.

In September 2017, the Lumina Foundation, in partnership with the Kresge Foundation, designated Nashville as a Talent Hub community.

The Nashville Talent Hub, a partnership between the mayor’s office, Complete Tennessee, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and Nashville State Community College, provides dedicated funding and resources to increase postsecondary degree and credential attainment for adults living in the Nashville Promise Zone.

A release from the mayor’s office says 49 percent of Promise Zone adults hold no postsecondary degree and 47 percent of Promise Zone households earn less than $24,000 annually.

“We have to close the equity gaps in our city,” said Briley. “One of the best ways to do this is to connect adults to the postsecondary education needed to access higher-wage, high-demand jobs. Unfortunately, there are many barriers to accessing postsecondary education, even with free tuition and resources from Tennessee Reconnect. I am committed to addressing these barriers to ensure access to opportunity for all.”