Complete Tennessee Leadership Academy: Doing Higher Education Differently

Memphis, TN


Complete Tennessee Leadership Academy (CTLA) participants gathered for our first session in Memphis in early September 2016 to explore the theme, Doing Higher Education Differently. Statewide and national content experts spoke with CTLA about rethinking the ways in which we approach education. 

“Forty thousand students in Memphis live in households who bring in less than $10,000 annually. You cannot ignore that,” Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson told the group during a conversation about unique challenges facing Shelby County Schools, the largest system in the state and one of the largest in the country. While State University of New York (SUNY) Chancellor Nancy Zimpher explored the theme of collective impact, TN Governor Bill Haslam closed the night by telling the group that “one of the biggest things we’ve done with education in Tennessee is raise our standards and expectations of K-12” and that now we must do the same with higher education.

Lumina Foundation’s Haley Glover presented startling data that showed the education pipeline is not just leaky but broken. Tennessee Higher Education Commission’s Russ Deaton took a deeper look into data that showed that while Tennessee ranks fourth in the US in the amount of state-sponsored financial aid per student, problems still exist with inefficient distribution of these funds.

While Memphis faces its own challenges for increasing student success in an equitable manner, this is certainly not unique to Shelby County. Across the state, all communities should focus on ensuring all students, regardless of race, geography, or socioeconomic background, graduate from high school prepared for some type of higher education experience.

In order for Tennessee to reach Drive to 55 goals, higher expectations must also be placed upon postsecondary institutions to increase retention and graduation rates at much greater percentages. CTLA participants are some of the key community leaders guiding this work across the state, and we look forward to continue addressing education equity with them over the next year.