Complete Tennessee Leadership Academy: Inaugural Cohort Closing Retreat

It is often said that all good things must come to an end.  At Complete Tennessee, we disagree.  While the end of April did mark the culmination of the inaugural cohort’s Complete Tennessee Leadership Academy (CTLA) experience, we are confident the incredible work they are doing to support college completion will continue throughout their careers.  We witnessed this commitment throughout CTLA, but even more so at the closing retreat at The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.

Participants first gathered at the Sewanee Inn reflect on the previous CTLA sessions and the moments that have stuck with them since the academy began last year.  While each participant highlighted different memories and experiences, many came back to the importance of seeing stand-out programs and facilities firsthand, examining the issues those initiatives were created to address and exploring the scalability of the resultant solutions.  

For example, the Volkswagen Academy in Chattanooga is a great example of aligning student curriculum for career exploration based on workforce needs, but would that model work at a smaller business with fewer resources?  Or the Great Schools Partnership in Knoxville is a shining example of organizing community resources to improve student success, but what type of leadership would it take to replicate this model in other communities?

After a welcome and brief overview of Sewanee history from the University’s Vice Chancellor and a student-led campus tour (complete with insights on Sewanee’s notable tradition of students and faculty donning academic regalia for class), participants gathered for a panel discussion with Mike Krause, Executive Director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission; Laura Gambino, Associate Dean for Assessment and Technology at Stella and Charles Guttman Community College of the City University of New York; and Dr. Rick Burnette, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Metrics, Analytics and Institutional Data Administrator at Florida State University (FSU).

The discussion focused on translating policies into action.  Tennessee has made national headlines in the last decade as a trailblazer in education policy, and leaders indicate that communities and institutions must take the rich policy landscape and craft student support systems on college campuses to help further affect positive change.  Guttman and FSU are examples of institutions that have taken high-touch, high-impact practices and implemented them at scale with impressive student success outcomes.

Participants were energized by the discussion, and agreed that no matter what piece of the pipeline they represented, clear expectations, aggressive goals, and implementation at scale are keys to making tangible change.  They also noted, however, the need for a culture shift for faculty members and administrators at institutions to value the experience of each individual student. 

One participant illustrated this by noting that if each professor was able to prevent just one at-risk student from dropping out of his or her institution, that would tangibly change graduation rates.  Our leaders agreed student-centered care across institutions coupled with high-impact programing holds the most promise for dramatically increasing student success.

The culmination of our signature leadership development program represents an exciting beginning—a chance for our leaders to implement what they’ve learned to continue raising achievement levels and pushing for improved completion outcomes across the state.  It also represents the beginning of the second cycle and a whole new cohort of leaders committed to student success.  We can’t wait to get started.

Complete Tennessee Leadership Academy is a year-long leadership development program designed to inspire more higher education champions, foster innovation in communities and on college campuses, and promote statewide collaboration.