Tennessee Board of Regents approves new academic programs, receives reports on student success initiatives

The Tennessee Board of Regents today approved new academic programs at several of its campuses, and heard reports on enrollment trends and student success initiatives.

Meeting in its regular quarterly December session in Nashville, the board also heard a report on satisfaction surveys of Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology alumni and their employers, named the new health sciences building at Jackson State Community College in honor of Jim and Janet Ayers, and approved revised budgets for the current fiscal year.

TBR Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Tristan Denley gave the board an update on the student success initiatives underway across the system. He described the initiatives as ingredients that combine into a “momentum year” for students in their first year to get them on path to graduation and degrees.

They include initiatives to help students make a purposeful program choice and adopt a productive academic mindset, and to encourage them to take at least nine hours in their academic focus area, to attempt at least 30 credit hours in their first year, and to complete their initial English and math courses.

One result is a significant improvement in three-year graduation rates at community colleges: from 14.6 percent for first-time, full-time freshmen who entered in the fall of 2010 and graduated by the summer of 2013, to 20.7 percent for the cohort who entered in the Fall of 2013 and graduated by summer of 2016.

The improvement was more dramatic for minorities underrepresented on campuses, improving from 5.6 percent for the Fall 2010 cohort to 10.5 percent for the Fall 2013 cohort. Members of the board, and Dr. Denley, acknowledged that while improvement has been shown, there is still much to be done to improve graduation rates.

The Colleges of Applied Technology survey graduating students and employers annually to assess the effectiveness and relevance of each occupational program. These “satisfaction surveys” provide data useful in the evaluation of program content and curriculum, instruction delivery, development of appropriate technical skills and worker characteristics essential in the workplace.

Students and employers are asked to rank various elements “excellent,” “good,” “satisfactory” or “poor.”  In the newest survey, alumni who graduated from the TCATs in the 2014-15 school year rated program preparation for employment “satisfactory” or above in 97 percent of the weighted responses. Employers rated student performance “satisfactory” or above in 95 percent of weighted responses.

There were about 6,704 graduates of TCAT programs during 2014-15 available for job placement, and 5,854 were placed, for an overall job placement rate of 87 percent – an increase of 1 percent over the previous year.

Board members also participated in the panel discussion on enrollment trends across the system and their impact on student success, led by Denley, TCAT-Shelbyville Director Ivan Jones, Northeast Tennessee Community College President Janice Gilliam, Tennessee Tech University President Phil Oldham.

Fall 2016 enrollment in the TBR system as a whole is relatively flat compared to last year, although some campuses showed declines and some showed increases. The campus leaders said declines are largely due to a decrease in non-traditional, or older, students, who are returning to or staying in their jobs due to the improving economy.  However, they have been offset by students coming directly from high school as a result of Tennessee Promise, which provides two years of tuition-free community college for new high school graduates.

In other action, the board

• Approved several new academic degree programs, including:

1.       A joint doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program by East Tennessee State University and Tennessee Technological University, with concentrations in family nurse practitioner, gerontology acute care nurse practitioner, women’s health care nurse practitioner, pediatric nurse practitioner-primary care general, psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner, and executive leadership in nursing. The program will admit students with either bachelors or masters in nursing, and will help address the need for more nurses with advanced training.

2.       A bachelor of science in dance at Middle Tennessee State University. The major will focus on dance in the context of a broad program of studies in the arts and humanities, natural and physical sciences, and social sciences. It will serve the needs of dance students from Tennessee and the region.

3.       A bachelor of science in fermentation science at MTSU, to train professionals in the production of fermented and distilled food and beverage products. The program will sustain and advance the dairy (yogurt), food, winery and brewery industries.

4.       Eleven programs at Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology across the state.

• Approved Jackson State’s request to name its new health sciences building the Jim and Janet Ayers Center for Health Sciences, in honor of Jim and Janet Ayers, longtime supporters of JSCC and public education in general. He is a member of the JSCC Foundation Board of Trustees and she serves on the presidential search committee for the school’s next president. The Ayers Foundation has made a tremendous impact on the Decatur, Henderson and Perry County region, as well as the state as a whole.

• Approved TBR’s 2017 system-wide legislative proposals for consideration by the General Assembly when it convenes in January. These include full funding of the state’s outcomes-based funding formula for higher education and for $8.9 million for campus safety and security improvements. The proposals also include supporting the Tennessee Higher Education Commission’s recommendations for an $18 million increase in student financial aid, for limiting tuition increases to 0 to 4 percent (if THEC’s budget recommendations are funded in the state budget) and for THEC’s capital outlay request of $340 million, which includes $191 million for TBR institutions, and $101.7 million for 72 TBTR capital maintenance projects. The proposals also include support for continued and expanded funding for early college classes for high school students, including dual enrollment and middle college programs.

• Welcomed its new student regent, Josh Spurling, who is pursuing an associate of science degree in business administration at Roane State Community College. Board Vice Chair Emily Reynolds recognized Regent Spurling as a Tennessee Promise student who works with other students to help with their success.

• Approved a resolution of appreciation for Regent Darrell S. Freeman, who has served on the Board since 2012. Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed him, subject to state legislative confirmation, to the new Board of Trustees for Middle Tennessee State University, where he earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

• Approved a resolution of appreciation for retired Jackson State President Bruce Blanding, who served as president from 2004 through this year. Dr. Blanding has 27 years of service with the TBR system, including previous roles as director at two Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology.

• Heard an informational report on the new Complete Tennessee initiative by Complete Tennessee Executive Director Kenyatta Lovett. The non-profit education advocacy organization was launched in September and is focused on increasing postsecondary access and completion in Tennessee.

• Approved a revised budget for fiscal year 2016-17 for TBR institutions and the system office. Original budgets for the fiscal year were developed in the spring of 2016 and included estimates of revenues and expenditures. The Board approved the initial budget in June. The revised budget is based on more recent information

• Heard an overview of the TBR system’s finances from Vice Chancellor for Business and Finance Dale Sims.

• Recognized Nashville business executive Pam Wright as the recipient this year of the Regents Award in Excellence in Philanthropy. Ms. Wright was nominated by MTSU President Sidney McPhee and was presented the award during MTSU’s spring commencement ceremony. She is a 1973 psychology graduate of MTSU, began her career as a social worker for the state and in 1981 founded Wright Travel, which has grown to 28 offices in seven states. Ms. Wright has led numerous fundraising campaigns for the campus and is a major donor.



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.