Tennessee college enrollment sinks
Fewer Tennessee high schoolers are going to college after graduation, according to data released Monday.
Why it matters: Tennessee officials at every level of government have spent years trying to encourage more residents to pursue higher education. Enrollment rates dropping substantially during the pandemic is the latest sign of lagging interest.
- Boosting enrollment is an important part of Tennessee's economic development strategy, especially as businesses like Ford seek employees with post-secondary training.
Context: The Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) published a new report tracking the college-going rate, which measures the percentage of high school seniors who go straight into college.
- College-going reached 64.4% in 2015, bolstered by programs like Tennessee Promise.
Driving the news: That number has dropped significantly, falling to 52.8% in 2021. The drop was especially steep during the pandemic.
What's next: THEC hopes to brainstorm ways to reverse the downward trend by hosting a coalition of state and local leaders at a meeting Tuesday.
What they're saying: "Tennessee is not alone in this challenge ahead, but it's still pretty shocking to see," Samantha Gutter, THEC's chief access and outreach officer, tells Axios.
- "To see that number, to see that decline, it's a real call to action."
Between the lines: Gutter says officials will need to find ways to make the case to high schoolers that investing time in higher education — whether through a four-year degree, a community college program or a technical college certificate — will pay off with higher wages and employment options.
- In an effort to make college more affordable and enticing amid inflation, state colleges are freezing their tuition next year.
Yes, but: Colleges typically struggle to attract students during periods of low unemployment. Tennessee unemployment remains at record lows, per state data.
Zoom in: Davidson County's college-going rate is 47%, which is lower than the statewide figure.
- Williamson County has the highest rate in the state at 81%.
The big picture: Statewide data shows racial and gender gaps, with Black and Latino students less likely to enroll than their white peers and women more likely to enroll than men.
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