State of Higher Education in Tennessee | 2017 Listening Tour: Looking back on February

State of Higher Education in Tennessee | 2017 Listening Tour: Looking back on February

February was a busy month for Complete Tennessee! We continued our State of Higher Education Listening Tour with roundtables in three diverse regions of Tennessee.  While a goal of the tour is to identify issues that affect college completion, we also know every community is different. That’s why we want to highlight challenges unique to each area and help communities develop localized strategies to improve student outcomes. After all, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for raising graduation rates.

Here are the highlights from the three regions we visited in February...

Complete Tennessee Leadership Academy: Building Our Future Workforce

Complete Tennessee Leadership Academy: Building Our Future Workforce

Tennessee strives to be a national leader in connecting our postsecondary education opportunities to workforce demands.  The third session of the Complete Tennessee Leadership Academy (CTLA), held in Nashville in January 2017, examined practices and policies helping drive innovation both in Northern Middle Tennessee and across the state.

State of Higher Education in Tennessee | 2017 Listening Tour: Lessons from the Northwest Roundtable

State of Higher Education in Tennessee | 2017 Listening Tour: Lessons from the Northwest Roundtable

Last week, we kicked off our State of Higher Education in Tennessee 2017 Listening Tour with the first in a series of nine roundtable discussions. This marks the start of an ongoing dialogue and partnership with communities across the state, with the State of Higher Education in Tennessee report as the central theme for the conversation. Our first roundtable in the Northwest region highlighted the many reasons we believe improving degree attainment in the state should be driven by communities.

Complete Tennessee Leadership Academy: The Student Experience

Complete Tennessee Leadership Academy: The Student Experience

Students Come First is a central value agreed upon by Complete Tennessee Leadership Academy (CTLA) participants. For the second CTLA session, which took place in Knoxville in early November 2016, this value was front and center.

Complete Tennessee Leadership Academy: Doing Higher Education Differently

Complete Tennessee Leadership Academy: Doing Higher Education Differently

Complete Tennessee Leadership Academy (CTLA) participants gathered for our first session in Memphis in early September 2016 to explore the theme, Doing Higher Education Differently. Statewide and national content experts spoke with CTLA about rethinking the ways in which we approach education.  

Complete Tennessee Leadership Academy

Complete Tennessee Leadership Academy

Leadership development is critical to our mission at Complete Tennessee. It is important to our efforts to build community advocates and increase local accountability. In order to sustain community support for the state’s completion agenda, the Complete Tennessee Leadership Academy (CTLA) has begun developing champions of higher education and fostering cross-sector collaboration. 

About Complete Tennessee

Complete Tennessee will begin our strategy for community engagement by holding a series of regional listening tours. It is our belief that higher levels of degree attainment is a goal all Tennesseans can embrace. However, we believe this goal is best executed through a localized context, ensuring community values remain central to this statewide effort.

The feedback from these sessions will inform our work at Complete Tennessee to develop a formal completion strategy for the communities we will work with over the next few years. The community completion strategy along with other reports will guide our framework for advocacy and accountability, in order to highlight areas in need of immediate attention necessary for meaningful local and statewide progress.

In addition to our strategies for engagement, advocacy, and accountability, we believe leadership development opportunities are essential to long-term support of Tennessee's goal for degree attainment. Leadership development is useful to every stakeholder involved in supporting student success. We have begun this strategy with a dynamic group of leaders across the state, currently leading change in all areas of the completion pipeline, from secondary education to job placement. In the near future, our goal is to expand these leadership development opportunities to more focused areas in the completion pipeline.

Finally, Complete Tennessee's strategy for innovation will serve as our primary channel to develop signature programs and solutions to improve completion rates, which will be informed by all the earlier mentioned strategies.

As we begin to collect the information and ideas useful to supporting innovation along the student success pipeline, your input and thoughts would be greatly appreciated. Our preliminary conversations with community members and organizations have revealed a wealth of innovative ideas in need of consideration. We want to cultivate these conversations to aid the development of high impact programs and solutions.

There is much ground to cover between the current realities of degree attainment in the Volunteer State and our aspirations for the future of Tennesseans in 2025. Other states are closely watching how forward-thinking public policy matches up to measurable outcomes in Tennessee. The internal and external attention on the state's completion goal is one of many reasons why an organization like Complete Tennessee is essential to sustaining and expanding the energy the state has directed toward the educational pipeline.

The Complete Tennessee team is eager to begin the work necessary for substantial transformation. Our Board of Directors has masterfully crafted a scope and mission to address the reasons why Complete Tennessee will have immediate value to the state's completion agenda. Our Steering Committee has helped guide the strategic focus to ensure future plans align with the needs of stakeholders along the completion pipeline. Now the journey begins to act upon the guidance of our Board and Steering Committee.

We look forward to the conversations, collaborations, and actions that will help carry out the Complete Tennessee mission.

Welcome to Complete Tennessee


In recent years, thanks to the hard work and dedication of policymakers on both sides of the aisle, Tennessee has benefitted from bold leadership in higher education reform.

Public funding for higher education has been revamped, encouraging public institutions to focus more on monitoring and student outcomes with the demands of the local workforce. The state has arguably the lowest cost barrier for postsecondary access, and substantial funding has been invested to increase capacity for high-demand programs at all levels of higher education. This productive policy environment emphasizes Tennessee's commitment to improving student success.

One would expect the combination of bold policy leadership, outcomes-based financial incentives, and investments to remove access barriers to render immediate success in achieving Tennessee's degree attainment goal. Yet the reality of our progress in higher education reveals a more complicated circumstance that goes beyond policy and public funding. More work must be done if we are to reach the state’s Drive to 55 goal of ensuring 55 percent of adults have a postsecondary degree or credential by 2025.

Here at Complete Tennessee, our mission is to highlight the challenges and opportunities facing our postsecondary education system, and help determine what is required to not only accomplish the Drive to 55 goal, but do so in a way that better positions Tennessee to compete in the global economy.

Greater participation and improved outcomes in postsecondary education have been central to the work of many professionals in Tennessee, including myself. This is why I am so excited to lead the Complete Tennessee team. It is an opportunity to help amplify the voices of passionate advocates who have been working to strengthen student success for a variety of reasons, including equity, social improvement, or a stronger economy.

It is also an opportunity to cultivate new forms of engagement and advocacy by connecting the collective value for degree attainment to the current circumstances of citizens and organizations.

The stage is set for a new conversation on completion and degree attainment. The conditions are ideal for higher forms of local action to align completion strategies to significantly impact each and every citizen in Tennessee.

At Complete Tennessee, we are delighted to have the opportunity to facilitate these necessary conversations and guide meaningful action to achieve our shared goal. 


Kenyatta Lovett, Ph.D.