Tennessee’s public community and technical colleges awarded 22,956 degrees, diplomas and certificates to graduates during academic year 2020-21, essentially tying the record set the previous year despite enrollment declines.
Students earned 15,791 associate degrees and technical certificates at the 13 community colleges during the year, and the 27 Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) awarded 7,165 diplomas and technical certificates, which they award instead of degrees. Their combined total of 22,956 credential awards was only one less than the previous year’s record number of 22,957 awards.
At the community colleges, 51 percent of the credentials awarded were Associate degrees designed to transfer to universities, and 49 percent were workforce-ready Associate of Applied Science degrees and technical certificates that enable graduates to start their careers immediately.
The student-completion data was one of several informational reports presented at the fall quarterly meeting today and Thursday of the Tennessee Board of Regents, which governs the College System of Tennessee – the state’s public community colleges and colleges of applied technology.
TBR Chancellor Flora W. Tydings said the graduation numbers mean the system is on a path to achieve its Drive to 55 goals by 2025. Drive to 55, established as state policy in 2013, is an effort to increase the percentage of working-age Tennesseans with a college-level credential to 55 percent by 2025. Each sector of higher education in the state has its own targets to achieve the overall goal.
The Board also received preliminary student enrollment figures for the current fall semester. At the TCATs, 12,117 students have registered as of this week, an increase of 9.4 percent over Fall 2020. At the community colleges, 73,123 students were enrolled, an 8.8 percent decline from Fall 2020.
While the community college numbers reflect a national enrollment decline at two-year colleges during the COVID-19 pandemic, Tydings noted that the system’s numbers are preliminary and will improve before the end of the semester. That’s partly because several of the community colleges have increased their offerings of accelerated courses this fall – concentrated courses that students typically complete in seven weeks – which means some will have two accelerated terms this semester, with more students enrolling in the second term starting in October. In addition, registration at the TCATs is continuous and enrollments typically rise through the term.
There were other bright spots in the enrollment numbers. Two community colleges have enrollment increases: Cleveland State Community College is up 1.9 percent and Dyersburg State Community College is up 1.7 percent. And dual enrollment – high school students taking college courses – at the TCATs is rapidly increasing. There are 2,106 dual-enrolled high school students at TCATs, a 47 percent increase over this time last year. Dual-enrolled students at the community colleges decreased only 1 percent overall, and increased at seven community colleges. First-time students enrolling at the community colleges after a “gap year” following high school increased by 57 percent over last year. And students participating in higher education programs in correctional institutions have doubled since 2019.
Tydings also attributed some of the enrollment increases at the TCATs to the additional state funding approved this year by Gov. Bill Lee and the General Assembly to increase capacity at the technical colleges and reduce student wait lists that exist for some programs. The funding is adding more faculty, space, equipment and programs to enable more students to enroll.
“We are deeply grateful to the governor and our legislators for the money they have infused into our TCATs to address the wait lists we had,” the chancellor said.
The community colleges’ preliminary enrollment numbers:
In other action, the Board of Regents and its committees:
Complete Board agendas and materials, and a recording of the committee and Board meetings, are archived on the TBR website at https://www.tbr.edu/board/september-2021-quarterly-meeting
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.