Higher Education Makes Progress Across the State

Editorial, Knoxville News Sentinel

There were at least three big pluses in Tennessee higher education recently, and all indicate that colleges and universities in the state are headed in the right direction.

The state announced last week that enrollment at the 13 community colleges is up by 6 percent, according to a census taken on the 14th day of classes and reported by the Tennessean.

Although the precise reasons for the enrollment might not be known for a while, at least part of the boost likely can be attributed to the launch of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Tennessee Promise. The program, approved in 2014, provides last-dollar scholarship money for high school graduates entering community colleges, technical colleges and other schools offering an associate’s degree.

Almost all of the new collegians are taking a full load, one of the requirements to obtain a full scholarship for tuition. That is significant because college administrators and state education officials agree that students who take a full load are more likely to graduate and achieve success than those who take only a couple of classes at a time.

Mike Krause, executive director of Tennessee Promise, said the number of full-time community college students coming directly from high school is up by 14 percent this year to about 13,500. That is based on early estimates, and he believes the full number of Tennessee Promise students at community colleges, technical colleges and other schools will be between 16,000 and 18,000.

Another plus was the University of Tennessee’s move up the ladder in U.S. News and World Report’s annual ranking of colleges and universities. UT ranked 103rd overall and 47th for public universities, up three slots on each list from last year.

In both lists, UT tied with the universities of Oregon, Missouri, Nebraska and New Hampshire. In the public university list, UT tied with universities of South Carolina, Oklahoma and Iowa State University. As UT Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek noted, the climb to a top 25 public research university, a goal since 2010, only gets tougher, but the state’s flagship university is headed up, and that is the right direction.

With the implementation of Tennessee Promise, Haslam’s stock also rose, with the governor making Politico Magazine’s 2015 top 50 “thinkers, doers and visionaries transforming American politics.”

Politico, the nonpartisan news organization of political matters, said Haslam earned his rating for setting a “higher bar for higher ed.” President Barack Obama’s “America’s College Promise” is modeled on Tennessee Promise.

Tennessee Promise is a big part of the governor’s Drive to 55 initiative, a move to raise the percentage of high school graduates with a certificate or degree beyond high school from 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025.

Tennessee Promise remains a work in progress, and “progress” is the key word, not only for the program, the community and technical colleges and UT but for the many students who now are able to earn a degree. Let the progress continue.

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