November 30, 2016

New Complete Tennessee Report Details Significant Gaps in Postsecondary Achievement

Report finds unacceptably low higher education graduation rates across Tennessee

NASHVILLE, TN – Complete Tennessee, an education advocacy group focused on increasing postsecondary attainment in Tennessee, today released a report entitled Room to Grow: The State of Higher Education in Tennessee. The report offers a comprehensive look at Tennessee’s higher education landscape and highlights significant equity gaps and completion challenges throughout the state’s postsecondary system.

Complete Tennessee Executive Director Dr. Kenyatta Lovett said, “The findings of this report are extremely troubling. Tennessee has worked incredibly hard in recent years to advance meaningful education reforms and, as a result, high school graduation rates are at an all-time high. However, we aren’t seeing similar gains in postsecondary education. In fact, the average graduation rate at Tennessee two- and four-year public postsecondary institutions is below 45 percent, with some institutions hovering near single-digit graduation rates. We can and must do better.”

Key findings from the report include:

  • Three out of four community college students in Tennessee do not complete a degree. In fact, there is not a single community college in Tennessee that graduates more than 50 percent of its first-time freshmen students within a six-year period, while half of public university students and a third of University of Tennessee system students do not graduate within a six-year period. 
  • Despite an overall 16 percentage point decline in the number of postsecondary students requiring remediation over the past four years, more than half of Tennessee community college students still require remediation.
  • Even “college ready” students with ACT scores between 24 and 28 have less than a 50 percent graduation rate from Tennessee community colleges and just a 60 percent graduation rate from public universities.
  • Only one in twenty African American students enrolled in community college in Tennessee attains a degree within three years.

Dr. Lovett said, “As most jobs require some form of postsecondary degree or training, it is imperative we take immediate steps to address the challenges facing Tennessee’s students and higher education institutions. Fortunately, we have started to identify strategies that will help raise achievement levels – but we need communities, business leaders, higher education experts, and local officials across Tennessee to weigh in with their ideas and feedback as well. In the coming weeks, Complete Tennessee will announce plans to hold a series of roundtables across the state to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing our postsecondary system. We look forward to working directly with local stakeholders in various regions in the state to improve higher education attainment and increase graduation rates for all students, regardless of age, race or circumstance, across the Volunteer State.”

To view the full Room to Grow report, click here. For more information about Complete Tennessee, visit

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Launched in September 2016, Complete Tennessee is a nonprofit 501(c)3 education advocacy organization focused on increasing postsecondary access and completion in Tennessee. Complete Tennessee’s mission will be advanced through four objectives: enhanced community engagement, improved research and accountability metrics, advanced leadership development through a new Leadership Academy, and heightened innovation through shared best practices. To learn more about Complete Tennessee, visit