Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Postsecondary Success Recognizes Complete Tennessee’s Kenyatta Lovett

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently featured Executive Director Kenyatta Lovett for the "Making a Difference" series recognizing leaders in higher education reform. Read more about the Gates Foundation, the "Making a Difference" series, and Kenyatta's selection below.

Executive Director Uses Community Engagement, Research and Leadership Development to Drive Completion

Kenyatta Lovett, Executive Director of Complete Tennessee, is selected for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation “Making a Difference” series for his dedication to equity and completion in Tennessee. Lovett’s team works to drive common understanding around higher education among all stakeholders to ensure Tennessee reaches its completion goals. Lead by its Postsecondary Success division, the Gates Foundation is engaging new voices in higher education reform to eliminate racial and socioeconomic barriers as predictors of a student’s chance for college success.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation envisions a U.S. higher education system that propels social mobility and economic development. The Making a Difference series highlights individuals from nonprofits, academia, policy institutions, government and corporations who are bringing new thinking and promising efforts to higher education reform. These innovators are working to:

  • transform institution
  • redesign the student experience
  • tap into the power of technology
  • create new knowledg
  • advance student-centered pathways


In 2010, in a groundbreaking policy decision, Tennessee state lawmakers agreed to tie taxpayer appropriations to institutional outcomes, such as credit completion and graduation rates, rather than to enrollment as most states do. In 2013, Tennessee’s governor, Bill Haslam, announced an effort called “Drive to 55” to increase the percentage of residents with a college credential to 55 percent by 2025 (up from 32 percent at the time). In 2014, the state created the Tennessee Promise scholarship program, which offers two years of free tuition at the state’s community and technical colleges. The three initiatives combined were designed to lift the state’s historically low college-attainment rate and, in turn, boost its economy.

Lawmakers successfully put the policy in place, but the state lacked the infrastructure and community understanding to help them meet their goals. Complete Tennessee was formed in 2016 to fill that gap. The advocacy organization—which sits between the formal structures that operate the state’s higher-education institutions and the various constituencies with an interest in higher education (students, parents, business leaders, and lawmakers)—is focused on “educating, engaging, and mobilizing” the state to be more supportive of the completion agenda.

“One of the biggest successes we see from the first year is that we are now seeing communities meet on their own, even without our facilitation, and figure out how they are going to reach our attainment goal,” Lovett said. “Eventually our success might be measured by whether we are needed to even push this agenda a decade from now.”

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