Higher education leaders across the state, including Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan, joined Governor Phil Bredesen, both gubernatorial hopefuls, and many business officials at a Complete College Tennessee Summit in Nashville on Tuesday, Oct. 26.
In a room filled with university and community college presidents, including the newly selected UT System President Joe DiPietro, technology center directors, chamber of commerce representatives and more, the discussion focused on changes in Tennessee’s higher education system to improve student outcomes and encourage more collaboration between business and education to improve the state’s overall economic development.
Morgan, who helped the General Assembly craft the Complete College Tennessee legislation when he served as deputy to Gov. Bredesen, participated in a panel discussion.
“We [higher education institutions] have to really look at this as an opportunity to achieve goals,” Morgan said. “For the first time, we will apply resources in a way to position our institutions to perform better with an outcomes-based funding formula.”
The Complete College Tennessee Act ties state funding for higher education to outcomes like graduation rates, requires institutions to develop unique missions around economic development needs, and will increase the number of graduates from postsecondary schools. The goal is to increase productivity in higher education, which will ultimately support economic growth.
Summit goals included creating a structure and process to connect business with higher education institutions, continuing long-term implementation of the CCTA, enhancing workforce and economic development, and tying postsecondary degrees and certificates to high-demand jobs in the state.
“You are our quality assurance system,” Morgan told business leaders in the room. “Feedback from you is critical. Every president and director of a university, community college or technology center has already had to make very hard decisions, and they will be faced with more difficult decisions as we phase in these changes.
“They need your help, your support in the communities and at the state legislature. And we need your help to change the focus in our state. Encourage your employers to send a message to employees that completing college is important. Work out systems that will encourage participation in higher education, and help them design schedules and systems that will help their employees complete their degrees.”
Speakers at Tuesday’s summit, hosted by the Tennessee Business Roundtable, Tennessee Higher Education Commission, Lumina Foundation and Complete College America, included Gov. Bredesen; Rich Rhoda, THEC executive director; Stan Jones, president of Complete College America; Matt Kisber, Tennessee commissioner of Economic and Community Development; and Gregg Morton, president of AT&T. Panelists included Morgan; Jan Simek, interim UT president; Claude Pressnell, president of the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association; Miles Burdine, president of the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce; and Mike Magill, president of Skyline Business Group.
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.