Tennessee’s Job Boom Awaits: Are Graduates Ready to Step Up?

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A study from an education policy and advocacy group said that Tennessee’s education system needs to do more to help first-generation and low-income students get college degrees so that the state can meet its workforce needs.

Tennessee students have done better on standardized tests since the pandemic, and the number of students going to college has gone up since then, according to the State Collaborative on Reforming Education’s 2024 report, which was given at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. This group did notice, though, that fewer students were finishing college within six years of high school graduation.

For instance, the report said that by the summer of 2022, only 26% of students who started high school in 2012 had gotten degrees. Thirty percent of that group were white, sixteen percent were Hispanic, fifteen percent were black, and three hundred thirteen percent said they were something else.

Head of SCORE, David Mansouri, said, “This is one of the most important pieces of information in the report.” “We are losing too many Tennesseans who want and deserve better opportunities along the way from K–12 to postsecondary education and the job market—we know that the current pipeline is broken.”

Tennessee's Job Boom Awaits

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There are also not many qualified people in the state (56 for every 100 jobs), and business leaders say there are not enough trained people to fill many of those jobs (70 percent of business leaders).

The report stated that the education system needs to better align and react to the job market to prepare Tennesseans for jobs that will allow them to be financially independent. Tennessee residents with postsecondary education that employers value are more likely to get jobs, do better in the job market when the economy is bad, and make more money throughout their careers.

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The Tennessee Promise program helps pay for students to go to community or technical schools. SCORE suggests making these policies stronger to solve the problem. One-third of Tennessee Promise students don’t finish college in six years, according to SCORE, which said the program doesn’t do enough to help individuals finish college.

For example, it suggests making it clear what qualifications and degrees are needed for different jobs. Also, it says that K–12 education should support and meet the needs of all students. For example, it says that Tennessee’s low-income and minority students should have more highly effective teachers.

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