Half of Tennessee’s high school graduates aren’t going to college

Nearly half of Tennessee’s high school seniors aren’t going to college right after they graduate — the lowest rate in the past 10 years. 

“We’re going in the wrong direction very fast,” University of Tennessee System President Randy Boyd said Monday. “I’d like to take it as a challenge, and this is definitely the challenge of our time.” 

Despite Tennessee’s financial aid programs like the Tennessee Promise and the Tennessee HOPE Scholarship, which make college more affordable, only 52.8% of high school graduates from the class of 2021 enrolled in college after they graduated.

University of Tennessee President Randy Boyd speaks at an event called College Pipeline in East Tennessee: Where We Are, Where We're Going, and Policy Options, held Monday at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center in Knoxville.

That rate is down 4 percentage points from the year before and down 11 percentage points from 2017, according to the report from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. 

The declines are not distributed equally across the state or its populations, according to a new report. More than half of Tennessee’s 95 counties have a college-going rate below 53%, and fewer Latino and Black students are going to college in the past two years compared to white students. 

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