If Tennessee wants to increase the number of its residents with a college degree or certificate, one mostly untapped place to look is at ensuring those incarcerated leave prison with an education.
That is at least one area of focus listed in a report released Tuesday by Complete Tennessee, the nonprofit’s third on the Volunteer State’s state of higher education.
“There is a lot of opportunity for those that are incarcerated, with significant barriers for entry and success,” said Kenyatta Lovett, Complete Tennessee executive director.
The 2019 report by the nonprofit, which focuses on increasing college graduation rates and success among Tennessee’s students, lists three areas of improvement for the state’s colleges.
Those recommendations acknowledge the strong progress Tennessee has made in increasing college opportunities and graduation rates statewide.
The state has Tennessee Promise and Reconnect, which send students to college free of tuition and fees. The programs are sending more recent high school graduates and adults to college than ever.
But the nonprofit calls on officials to look toward pockets of struggling Tennesseans to ensure improvements for all its residents.
The report lists three avenues for improvement:
- Having clear targets and timelines in closing graduation gaps;
- Having a focus on increasing faculty diversity;
- And making it a priority to advance attainment among students struggling the most, such as diverse or low-income Tennesseans.
Places that have set clear priorities, such as California and Chicago, Lovett said, have made clear progress in improving graduation rates among diverse students.
In Tennessee, black students lag behind in graduation rates, and clear outcomes for all students should be outlined, according to the report.
Another way to help increase graduation rates is to boost the number of diverse faculty members statewide, the report says. It says Tennessee’s K-12 public schools have seen strong results when a diverse set of teachers educate diverse student populations.
“Faculty diversity is a key component in K-12 but also higher education,” Lovett said.
And the report calls on state officials to begin to put in place more support for lower-income students, as well as look at students who traditionally have had less help.
Lovett said support could be in the form of textbook assistance, which some colleges are doing, or even extra advising services.
The report also outlines a population that is often forgotten. It says that each year, the Tennessee Department of Correction releases about 14,000 people from prison facilities, while between 12,000 and 13,000 people enter prison.
By focusing on incarcerated Tennesseans, the state can increase job opportunities when those residents exit, said Kyle Southern, Complete Tennessee director of policy.
He listed two programs at Dyersburg State Community College and Lipscomb University that have reduced the recidivism rate.