February 26, 2019

New Complete Tennessee Report Demands Increased Focus on Closing State’s Higher Education Equity Gaps

The “No Time to Wait” report urges institutions, elected officials, and community leaders to set measurable goals to address postsecondary attainment disparities

NASHVILLE, TN - Postsecondary advocacy nonprofit Complete Tennessee today released No Time to Wait: The State of Higher Education in Tennessee. The report offers a comprehensive look at Tennessee’s higher education landscape and highlights both the progress and challenges facing the state’s postsecondary system.

Most notably, the report underscores Tennessee’s pervasive equity gaps and urges stakeholders to set clear targets and timelines to increase graduation rates for all students, with focused attention on addressing disparities related to race, income, or circumstance.

Complete Tennessee Executive Director Dr. Kenyatta Lovett said, “No Time to Wait is our third and arguably most important State of Higher Education report yet. While student outcomes have increased in recent years, graduation and retention rates are not rising equally across student demographics. Significant inequalities remain in our state’s higher education attainment rates that must be addressed in order to build a stronger, more prosperous future for our state and its residents.”

Key findings from the report include: 


  • Tennessee’s 2016 attainment rate of 40.7% fell behind the national average of 46.9%.

  • Community college graduation rates have increased by nearly 70 percent—from 13 percent to 22 percent—since 2013. However, fewer than one out of every four community college students graduate within three years.

  • Only one in ten Black students will complete a community college degree, and only a third of Black students graduate within six years of enrollment at Tennessee’s locally-governed four-year institutions.

  • Despite Tennessee’s commitment to increasing college affordability, fewer than a third of the state’s low-income students enroll in postsecondary programs, trailing all but two other states in the Southeast and falling far behind the national average.


Dr. Lovett continued, “We urge higher education leaders and elected officials to place a renewed focus on ensuring success rates are improving for all students, especially historically underserved students of color and low-income students. This can be achieved by providing wraparound support services that address non-tuition barriers to higher education, embracing more diverse and inclusive faculty and institutional leadership, and encouraging greater community engagement in promoting postsecondary opportunities for the most underserved students. Complete Tennessee looks forward to partnering with stakeholders across the state to advance these and other innovative policies that can have a measurable impact on higher education success.”

To view the full No Time to Wait report, click here. A video of today’s report release event, which features remarks from Dr. Lovett, a presentation on the report’s findings from Complete Tennessee staff, and a panel discussion with state leaders, will be posted on Complete Tennessee’s website later today.

For more information about Complete Tennessee, visit www.completetn.org.

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