December 13, 2017

Latest Complete Tennessee Higher Education Report Reveals Lapses in Minority and Adult Attainment 

Annual report confirms outcomes for key demographics still lagging despite state investments

NASHVILLE, TN – Complete Tennessee, an education advocacy group focused on increasing postsecondary attainment in Tennessee, today released Beneath the Surface: The State of Higher Education in Tennessee. The annual report offers a comprehensive look at Tennessee’s higher education landscape and highlights both the progress and pitfalls facing the state’s postsecondary system.

Complete Tennessee Executive Director Dr. Kenyatta Lovett said, “This annual report provides an important progress benchmark for the state’s policymakers, postsecondary leaders and communities. Last year, the report shed light on the state’s troubling postsecondary outcomes, particularly among community college and low-income students. While we have seen some improvements in postsecondary attainment, our most vulnerable citizens are still struggling to earn the credentials necessary to compete for in-demand, local jobs.”

Key findings from the report include:

  • Although preliminary enrollment numbers confirm community college enrollment has grown by two percent from 2016-2017,  enrollment trends statewide have been relatively flat.
  • Despite state efforts to raise adult postsecondary attainment levels, adult enrollment has dropped 25 percent since 2011.
  • While student retention rates in Tennessee have increased over the last five years, fall-to-fall retention rates for African-American students remain ten percentage points below their peers, and three out of four community college students still fail to complete a degree.
  • Low-income students graduate at lower rates at most colleges except the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology.
  • Despite historically low unemployment rates in the state, African Americans are still facing significantly higher levels of unemployment despite earning postsecondary credentials.

Dr. Lovett said, “The good news is, our overarching completion rates have not fallen further and we are beginning to see a slight uptick in community college enrollment, thanks to the Tennessee Promise. However, we must work harder to ensure access and attainment in our postsecondary system is equitable. In 2018, Complete Tennessee will continue collaborating directly with the most at-risk communities across the state to raise awareness of the importance of earning a postsecondary degree or credential. We will also help implement best practices that will allow more prospective students to take advantage of the state-supported programs designed to facilitate college access. All Tennesseans – regardless of race, background or circumstance – should have the same opportunity to succeed.”

To view the full Beneath the Surface report and to learn more about Complete Tennessee, visit

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