State of Higher Education in Tennessee | 2017 Listening Tour: Looking Back on March

Complete Tennessee continued the State of Higher Education Listening Tour with March roundtables in Northeast and Southeast Tennessee.  These roundtable events aimed to identify challenges and opportunities facing college and university completion. The roundtables also brought us two steps closer to our goal of meeting with stakeholders in all 9 Tennessee Economic and Community Development Regions.

While both in the east, the story of completion in these regions was unique:



Greeneville, Tennessee

March 8, 2017

We continued east, after the roundtable in the Upper Cumberland, to the General Morgan Inn & Conference Center in Greeneville to meet with community leaders from Northeast Tennessee. The Citizen Tribune published detailed coverage of the Northeast roundtable event.

One point of conversation revolved around competing priorities: should a region focus on increasing educational attainment first or work to attract employers that provide the incentives for college completion? The “build it and they will come” philosophy could apply to both approaches. The question centers on what a community should be mindful of building – a robust employer base or population of adults equipped take advantage of the jobs of today and the future.

The insight from the group was that education must come first. Employers will not take a risk on a region if there is no promise for qualified workers, so communities must make the investment to increase educational access and attainment by developing programs that will help grow existing businesses and attract new ones. Interestingly enough, the implications of a booming labor market driving educational access could be seen clearly in the next region we visited.



Chattanooga, Tennessee

March 29, 2017

We wrapped up the month with a diverse group of leaders at Chattanooga State Community College, where the implications of the Northeast concerns can be seen in action. Attendees from higher education institutions, chambers of commerce, nonprofit organizations, local government, and industry joined us to discuss not only the challenges facing the region but also the community-driven initiatives to improve education already underway. Special thanks to the Times Free Press for covering the event.

The conversations in the Southeast can be traced to a central theme—a tightening labor market.  Job growth is high in the region, with some areas leading Tennessee—and the nation.  While this exciting growth has led to strong partnerships between industry and postsecondary institutions, it has also resulted in new barriers to completion.

Participants heralded joint training and education programs, while mentioning that the same employers creating the partnerships would also hire potential students before they could matriculate.  Certificate and degree programs are booming—but the recruitment pool is shrinking due to industry’s high demand for talent.


These are just some of the findings discovered through meeting with stakeholders in these regions.  Complete Tennessee will release a report in the coming months detailing the completion landscape across Tennessee. Through identifying the common—as well as unique—challenges to each region, Complete Tennessee will be able to help communities harness their strengths to drive positive change for their students.