Nearly 500 faculty, staff, students participate in 2020's virtual We All Rise Conference

We All Rise

Nearly 500 faculty, students, administrators and staff from colleges and universities across the state participated in the College System of Tennessee’s We All Rise Biennial Conference on Equity and Completion Oct. 5 and 6, with a focus on improving college success and completion for all students.

We All Rise is the biennial convening around issues of equity and completion for Tennessee’s community and technical colleges and the state’s locally governed public universities. Starting with the first conference in 2008, the event has brought together faculty, staff, administrators and students to share and learn about evidence-based approaches to creating welcoming environments, ensuring equitable access to services and opportunities, and eliminating equity gaps.

Although this year’s conference was held virtually, it included 33 breakout sessions and 105 speakers, presenters and panelists discussing a broad range of teaching and learning practices to help students successfully complete college.

Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Flora W. Tydings congratulated all presenters, participants and the TBR Office of Organizational Effectiveness team, who organize and lead the conference, for its success.

“Our colleges have had great success in increasing the number of degrees and credentials awarded – a 44 percent increase in a decade, despite an enrollment decline – but we still have much work to do in closing the completion gaps that exist among some of our low-income and minority students. That’s what the conference is all about and we won’t stop until all our students are succeeding,” Dr. Tydings said.

During the conference’s opening session, students and faculty described the challenges they’ve faced and the lessons they have learned over the last several months resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic and issues related to social justice.

“The last seven months have been like no other. We have learned lessons and made lots of discoveries, and not all good,” said Dr. Wendy Thompson, TBR vice chancellor for organizational effectiveness. “We know that we’re constantly dealing with issues of equity and student success. We know that we are better when we learn from each other and share experiences. We know that the stakes have never been higher. Our communities need us now more than ever.

“We have challenges with making things better for all of our students. But we also know that we are a resilient group of people who are dedicated to improving the educational experiences for all students. We’re invested in providing high-quality teaching, learning and working experiences. There’s much work to do to accomplish that. But you understand the urgency of the situation. We don’t have a generation to lose,” Dr. Thompson said.

The context for the emphasis on equity, diversity and inclusion is the realization that these are key elements to each public higher education institution’s ability to deliver on its mission and to further the state’s goals of having more Tennesseans with postsecondary credentials, a workforce that is globally competitive, and an enhanced quality of life for every Tennessean.

The conference provides participants opportunities to learn from each other, as well as state and national experts who work in the areas of equity and inclusion; faculty, staff and student engagement, and increasing student success and completion rates.

We All Rise 2020 also hosted the second phase of orientation for the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology into Achieving the Dream (ATD), a national nonprofit organization of nearly 300 community and technical colleges committed to helping their students achieve their goals for academic success, personal growth and economic opportunity.

All 27 TCATs were accepted into Achieving the Dream this fall and participated in an ATD introductory session last week. During We All Rise, TCAT faculty and staff ATD teams met in regional group virtual sessions with their ATD coaches.

The College System of Tennessee is the state’s largest public higher education system, with 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology and the online TN eCampus serving approximately 140,000 students. The system is governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents.