Complete Tennessee Executive Director Kenyatta Lovett reflects on the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and points to progress in postsecondary education in Tennessee.
Complete Tennessee recently released a report on regional barriers to postsecondary attainment and completion. The report, Room To Grow: Regional Perspectives on Higher Education Improvement, highlights challenges learned across the state and will guide future engagement and advocacy activities. Here, Executive Director Kenyatta Lovett discusses one of these challenges and national best practices for improvement.
The Upper Cumberland region remains a special place for me. Throughout my professional career in higher education, I have learned much about community-driven leadership from my colleagues and friends in the area. The roundtable Complete Tennessee held in Cookeville last week was one of the most in-depth and constructive conversations from the listening tour. It reinforced my appreciation for the region’s commitment to improving the lives of students, despite great challenges.
Three especially important issues were raised during our discussion that may resonate with many communities in Tennessee...
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.
A LETTER FROM OUR EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
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.