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Governor: Education on right path in Tennessee

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If we are going to meet our goals in workforce development in Tennessee, it will take more than setting goals. It will take results, and recent figures show that results have us on the right path.

Our statewide graduation rate for 2016-17 reached 89.1 percent, the highest on record for our state. The rate is up more than half a percentage point since last year, and since the 2010-11 school year the graduation rate in Tennessee has increased by 3.6 percent.

Graduation rates this year increased in nearly 56 percent of the school districts in our state that have high schools. We saw graduation rates in 13 districts improve by 5 percentage points or more, and 43 districts saw rates above 95 percent.

Teachers and other educators have worked hard to support students, and the graduation rates show their hard work is making a difference.

We know that we have to succeed in K-12 education if we are going to reach our goals in higher education and workforce development. If we are going to produce a modern workforce, we must send students into postsecondary education who are ready to learn at that level. Graduating from high school is obviously a precursor to success in higher education, so to have a record high in our graduation rate shows significant progress.

We are seeing similar encouraging news in higher education. The Tennessee Promise is our program that provides two years at a community college or technical school free of tuition and fees. Our first cohort of Tennessee Promise students enrolled in the fall semester of 2015.

Thus far, 56.2 percent of those Tennessee Promise students have been awarded a credential, transferred to a four-year university or are still enrolled in a community college, while 38.9 percent of students not in the Tennessee Promise program have done the same. That means Tennessee Promise students are outperforming their peers by a 17.3 percentage-point difference in terms of retention, an indication that the financial assistance for college is an incentive that is working.

Those figures do not include figures from our Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology because our TCATs are transitioning to the same data reporting technology as our community colleges. But their data will be included by next spring. Our TCATS have an outstanding record in job placement, so we are encouraged about the figures we have seen.

Our Drive to 55 initiative is to increase the number of Tennesseans with postsecondary degrees or credentials by 2025. Progress is measurable. Our movement in graduation rates and retention on the Tennessee Promise keep that drive alive.

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