NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A new report shows that fewer students are going to college in Tennessee, which is leaving many sounding the alarm when it comes to post-secondary education in the Volunteer State.

Data provided by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) indicates the overall trend shows a steep drop-off during the onset of COVID-19. In 2019, nearly 62% of students were enrolled in a college prior to the pandemic. However, in 2020, that number dropped off to under 57% and dropped again to 53% in 2021.

The numbers also show that more female high school graduates are seeking a college education than male graduates with 59% of females attending college after graduation. But, less than half of male graduates are doing the same with only 46% applying to college. 

David Mansouri, President of Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE), said the decline in college enrollment is concerning and could impact the state’s economy. 

“It is critical to the economic mobility of Tennesseans to make sure students can access jobs that provide a pathway to a meaningful career, “said Mansouri. “Tennessee has made a lot of progress in the last few years in helping students prepare for and access college whether that’s with Tennessee Promise, higher K-12 academic standards, or additional investments in our technical colleges and universities.”

Notable disparities in the college-going rate were also seen between Black, Hispanic and White public high school graduates in Tennessee. The THEC said among the students enrolled in college last year more than 57% were White, 44% were Black and 35% were Hispanic. 

Mansouri said in order for students to gain economic independence in today’s time, a post-secondary education is critical. 

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“In the long-term for a student to have a career that really enables them to have economic independence some type of post-secondary credential or degree is critical whether that’s a certificate program, program at technical and community colleges, or at a 4-year university,” said Mansouri, “So, one of the things we need to think about as a state is how do we address the non-tuition financial costs students are faced with.” 

The THEC said to increase the need for Tennesseans with a postsecondary credential the agency will begin efforts in coordinating and convening stakeholders to gain recommendations to renew the focus on improving education opportunities.