More students are completing their degrees at community colleges.
That’s good news for the Tennessee Board of Regents, which met Thursday for its quarterly meeting. The TBR system, which includes the state’s 13 public community colleges, has long struggled to raise graduation rates.
Among students who started in 2010, for example, 13.6 percent ended up graduating within three years. That has since increased to 25.4 percent.
Russ Deaton, executive vice chancellor for policy and strategy, told board members it will likely rise even higher with this year’s graduating class, “roughly doubling the rates in about six years,” he said.
“The fruits of a lot of the labor that have occured in the TBR system and across the state for the last 10 years are obviously showing in these numbers.”
Graduation rates are an important metric as the state continues to invest in community college. Free tuition programs like Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect are funneling more students and state funding into the system. The completion rate helps to answer questions such as how well students are handling college-level material and whether advisers are giving them enough direction on finishing their degrees.
Among Tennessee Promise students specifically, the graduation rate showed more immediate improvement. For full-time, first-time freshmen who started in 2014, 13.8 percent graduated within five semesters. For those who started in 2016 and were part of the Tennessee Promise program, their graduation rate was 22.9 percent.
A sizable increase, noted TBR board member Barbara Prescott, but she said the system needs to aim even higher.
“Not to be a Debbie Downer, but I think we have to realize that when you’re looking at the community, and they’re seeing still a graduation rate of 22 percent, that’s nothing that anybody is celebrating,” she said.
“Amen,” Deaton said in response.