Robust Regional Plans, Innovative Statewide Initiatives, and Leveraging of State Funding
As one of the initial six states to join the Pathways to Prosperity Network in 2012, Tennessee has initiated Pathways development in four regions with the goal of scaling across the state. While Tennessee Pathways is housed within the Department of Education, a cross-agency steering group unifies the Pathways initiative under one statewide vision. Within the broad Pathways framework, each region has developed a plan that responds to its unique local educational and economic context.
Already known as an education governor and as an architect of the Tennessee’s Drive to 55—a statewide initiative charged with increasing postsecondary attainment in the state to 55 percent—Governor Haslam made national news in 2014 with the Tennessee Promise. Designed as a last dollar scholarship, Tennessee Promise will ensure that all eligible high school graduates have the opportunity to attend 2 years of community college at no cost to them. Currently, 56,000 of Tennessee’s 65,000 high school seniors, or just over 85 percent, have applied for the scholarship, which will be rolled out at full scale starting in fall 2015. While courses are free, the requirements to participate are based on the best recent research on the supports and incentives students need to enter, stay in school, and complete a degree. For example, students must apply to the program in November of their senior year, attend two informational sessions throughout the year, achieve at least a 2.0 GPA, maintain contact with a mentor who will guide students through the transition, and complete 8 hours of community service. In addition to the significant financial investment the state is making in postsecondary education, Tennessee Promise also sends the important message to young people and their families that postsecondary education is necessary for all students to thrive economically as adults, and there are resources available to make sure this happens—a message echoed throughout the Pathways to Prosperity framework and integrated into each of our five levers of implementation.
Another innovative strategy to minimize barriers to college persistence and completion is Tennessee SAILS (Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Supports), which allows students to complete developmental math courses while still in high school. Currently, over 70 percent of all students in Tennessee require some form of remediation upon entering postsecondary institutions. However, through the use of a new online course delivery system and in-class supports, students can satisfy developmental math course requirements at no cost, ensuring they can enroll in credit-bearing courses once they enter college, if not before.
To support the roll out of Pathways Tennessee, the state has effectively leveraged existing Perkins Reserve Grants, which represent the primary funding stream for the Pathways work. Tennessee has been able to provide further support by leveraging other statewide economic and workforce development initiatives. Jobs4TN supports Pathways implementation through targeted recruitment of employers, analysis of labor needs, and coordination across training institutions. In addition, Tennessee’s General Assembly appropriated $10 million for the Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP) competition, which is part of the Drive to 55 initiative. This month, LEAP grants were awarded to 12 regions across the state, including the 4 Pathways regions, that are focused on increasing the number of Tennesseans who acquire postsecondary credentials aligned with local workforce needs.
For more information about Pathways Tennessee, including the strategic plan, visit the initiative website at http://www.tn.gov/education/cte/PathwaysTN.shtml.