Public colleges and universities in Tennessee to date are paid based on student enrollment size instead of graduation rates. Governor Bredesen proposes that shifting the payment structure for learning institutions in higher education by using graduation rates will contribute to student success and the financial wellbeing of schools. Currently, Tennessee has some of the worst graduation rates in the country.
The collective graduation rate for public, four-year universities in Tennessee is only at an astounding 44 percent. Two-year community colleges only graduate students at a collective rate of 12 percent. Less than half of the students enrolled actually graduate with college degrees, and Governor Bredesen says this is unacceptable.
The following graduation rates may surprise you: Austin Peay State University – 27 percent, Middle Tennessee State University – 44 percent, Columbia State Community College – 17 percent, Volunteer State Community College – 11 percent, and Motlow State Community College – 16 percent. Senator Thelma Harper says these numbers are “stressful.”
One of the main initiatives included in Bredesen’s proposal is to make earning a degree in Tennessee more accessible for students. The best way to improve these numbers is to change the state’s funding formula by focusing on graduation rates. According to Representative Jason Mumpower, other factors such as “…ensuring that the classes taken at a community college level will transfer to any four-year institution” will increase graduation rates at both the community college and the university level. He says “It’s really a streamlining of the process.”
Senator Harper wonders about the core reasons for students not graduating. She questions whether or not it is the students’ aptitudes that prevent them from graduating or if other factors need to be considered before changes are made. Harper believes that questioning the students who withdraw from their degree programs will provide information that can be used to make necessary decisions. The senator stated that assumptions about students who “don’t make the grade” should not be made because other factors may be responsible. The increasing tuition costs at colleges and universities may play a role in students who neglect to finish their degree programs.
Governor Bredesen hopes state law makers pass the bill, but the process may be delayed with other education reform under consideration.