New report highlights significant college access issues for Nashville

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Report Marks First Step in Developing a Citywide Campaign to Increase College Completion

Sixty percent of jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree. Yet, according to a new study released today, only 24 percent of Nashville’s public high school graduates are earning a degree within six years (from either a two- or four-year college). The city’s unprecedented growth, which demands a better educated and more skilled workforce, is at the heart of a new report by the Nashville Public Education Foundation in partnership with The Tennessee College Access and Success Network (TCASN). The report, Bridge to Completion: A Framework for Developing Nashville’s Campaign for College Success, takes a deep-dive look into the challenges and barriers high school and college students face and ideas for a community effort that could bring Nashville’s college-going and college-completion rates up to at least the national average.

The report serves as a starting point to bring the community together behind better organized and resourced efforts that could push college-completion rates from 24 to 40 percent over the next several years.

The report is the first time there has been such a comprehensive and contextualized look at the postsecondary landscape in Nashville. It is also unique in the sense that it follows entire student cohorts and provides a detailed, school-by-school analysis. Combining analysis of National Student Clearinghouse data along with interviews of college counselors, students and staff at higher-education institutions allowed researchers to pinpoint more specific barriers for why students aren’t going to or staying in college, such as affordability, equity, transitional supports from high school to college, loan aversion, and family responsibilities.

“This report weaves together a great deal of data to tell the most complete story about what happens to our students after high school. Our hope is that it will spur a larger community conversation about what we need to do to improve the chances our high schoolers go on to and complete college,” said NPEF President and CEO Shannon Hunt. “In the world we live in today, success of our public schools cannot be high school graduation alone; but rather, our measuring stick should be college completion. And certainly, our public school graduates should have the same chance for college success as their peers nationwide.”

The Bridge to Completion research centers on the analysis of multiple data sets, including comparing similar schools and other large, urban districts as well as national data, and interviewing 50-plus professionals representing the school district, community-based organizations, higher education and nationally recognized college access. The research also looked at multilevel analyses of both the district and individual high schools. “Our goal was to provide a report that shines a light on the great work that is happening across this city and identifies opportunities to help more students achieve their dreams,” said TCASN Executive Director Bob Obrohta.

The report urges action in five key areas:

  • Provide equitable access to high-quality, student-centered college counseling by lowering student-to-counselor ratios and increasing the reach of community-based college access and support services. In Nashville, average student-to-counselor ratios are 450:1, whereas national best practices indicate it should be closer to 150:1. In addition, only one of MNPS’ 18 high schools has a full-time, dedicated MNPS college adviser.
  • Ensure more students are attending higher-education institutions where they have a likelihood of completing. The research reveals concerns about success rates in some of our two-year colleges and whether students are attending colleges that are the best fit for them.
  • Increase the level of student support services at local community colleges, specifically looking to address food insecurity and transportation.
  • Focus affordability efforts to assist students in meeting the increasing costs of attending college, including increasing dual-enrollment opportunities, creating an emergency fund for community college students and exploring first-dollar scholarships.
  • Launch a coordinated effort to combat “summer melt” – the phenomenon whereby nearly a quarter of our students who plan to go to college don’t end up enrolling. This includes making the hand-off to college part of the high school experience.

Already, the issue of college access and success is gathering community momentum. First Tennessee Bank, one of the area’s largest banks and employers, has committed $250,000 to the NPEF over the next two years, the vast majority of which will help jump-start efforts to bring the community together around some of these ideas.

“We live in a great and thriving city with so much going for it. But if we want to maintain that vibrancy, it is absolutely critical that more of our students go on to and complete some level of postsecondary,” said Carol Yochem, president of First Tennessee Bank’s Middle Tennessee region. “We are deeply committed to advancing some of the recommendations in this report and hope others in the business and philanthropic community will join us.”

To read the full report, visit