Sep 26, 2022 - News

Tennessee community college enrollment drops

Note: The 2022 figure is preliminary and could shift. Data: Tennessee Board of Regents; Chart: Axios Visuals
Note: The 2022 figure is preliminary and could shift. Data: Tennessee Board of Regents; Chart: Axios Visuals

Enrollment at Tennessee's network of 13 community colleges is lower than it's been in more than 30 years.

  • The statewide headcount dropped to 70,313 students this fall, continuing a pandemic-era decline.
  • That is the system's lowest enrollment since 1990, and a drop of more than 18,000 students in just three years.

Why it matters: Softening interest in higher education could jeopardize the state's long-term goal of growing a college-educated workforce.

Flashback: The downturn has already had campus-level effects. Layoffs and buyouts hit some colleges earlier this year.

State of play: The Tennessee Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s community and technical colleges, discussed the latest enrollment trends Friday.

  • Chancellor Flora Tydings acknowledged a daunting "enrollment cliff."
  • Nearly half of the state's high school graduates are choosing not to go to college, according to data released in May.

Zoom in: Enrollment numbers for this fall are preliminary and could shift slightly as more courses begin. But they offer a sobering view of the challenges ahead.

  • In addition to a decline among new high school graduates, there has been a drop in older adults enrolling.
  • Losses have been especially steep among Black students enrolling as first-time freshmen, a population that has fallen 35% since 2019.

Yes, but: Nashville State Community College was a bright spot for the state. The school saw a 10% year-over-year jump in its freshman class this fall.

What they're saying: Nashville State president Shanna Jackson tells Axios growth among incoming freshmen is a "direct result" of partnerships with K-12 school systems in Nashville and Clarksville.

  • The Better Together partnership with Nashville public schools seeks to streamline the student transition from high school to college.
  • One of the initiatives under that umbrella is Nashville GRAD, a city program that offers scholarships for textbooks or transportation.

The big picture: Enrollment declines in Tennessee are part of a broader trend that has seen college attendance plummet nationwide.

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