New Drive to 55 Initiative will equip more high school students to transition into high-skilled jobs and postsecondary opportunities in Tennessee after graduation
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen Thursday unveiled Tennessee Pathways as a part of the Drive to 55, the governor’s initiative to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with postsecondary credentials to 55 percent by the year 2025. Tennessee Pathways lays the foundation for the Drive to 55 by focusing on students in elementary, middle, and high school to further align K-12 education to opportunities after high school graduation – including industry needs and postsecondary expectations – so students gain the knowledge and experience to move seamlessly into college and the workforce.
Tennessee Pathways will include a nearly $2 million state investment in regional coordinators, who will provide technical assistance to school systems and guidance on increasing the number of pathway opportunities available to students. And with funding from the state’s New Skills for Youth grant, the department will continue to offer grant funding directly to districts to prepare more students to be ready for the workforce.
Additionally, Tennessee Pathways will recognize exemplary districts and schools through a competitive designation process. The three major indicators to earn this designation will include:
kindergarten through career advisement;
cross-sector collaboration across K-12, postsecondary programs, employers, and community organizations; and
early college and career experiences.
The designation will also come with incentives that include the ability to access innovation funding to drive new ideas in this space.
“I launched the Drive to 55 with the goal to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or certificate because all Tennesseans deserve the opportunity to pursue a rewarding career, and that includes the education and training to get there,” Gov. Haslam said. “Tennessee Pathways provides a key foundation to help us reach this goal, giving us an opportunity to continue our investment in our students as they become the next generation of successful Tennesseans, prepared to enter the workforce from day one.”
The Tennessee Pathways designation process will give districts a roadmap for aligning academic preparation to college and career expectations, providing quality student advisement at all grade levels, partnering with employers and postsecondary to expand opportunities to earn college credit and work experience while in high school, and increasing the number of students seamlessly enrolling in postsecondary and ultimately obtaining credentials that lead to high-quality careers.
“Students must be on clear and guided pathways that move them toward realizing their potential of being college and career ready, and we want to increase the variety and quality of the options and opportunities available to our students,” Commissioner McQueen said. “Tennessee Pathways will allow us to honor and reward districts and schools that create high-quality pathways for students, meet a key need we have as a state, and lay the foundation for future work in the Drive to 55.”
“We know the great value of guided pathways. Our colleges work with industry to ensure our students are career ready, and our advisors help guide students through the courses they need to earn their degrees and credentials,” said Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Flora Tydings. “This improved Tennessee Pathways program and the state investment in regional coordinators will strengthen the relationships between our colleges and school systems for the benefit of all our students. We’re excited about our partnership with the Department of Education for student success.”
Mike Krause, Executive Director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commissioner added, “Tennessee Pathways is another key step to improve collaboration across K-12, higher ed, and the workforce that will create more opportunities for students – so every community wins. This clarity of expectations for all students and focus on advisement throughout every step of their educational career will mean more students are ready and equipped to be successful when they transition to college and careers. And that’s a goal every one of us shares.”
Originally called Pathways Tennessee, Tennessee Pathways was established in 2012 to create and support regionally and locally led approaches to addressing the “skills gap” threatening young Tennesseans entering the workforce. Since then, the initiative has expanded to serve seven regions and 33 counties with a focus that is now K-12, not just high school. In 2016, the department received a New Skills for Youth grant from J.P. Morgan to extend and expand the work further. By rebranding as Tennessee Pathways, the initiative will continue to focus on locally driven partnerships while extending its reach into more counties and across all grade levels to prepare more students under the broader Drive to 55 umbrella.
The Tennessee Pathways designation process will include the release of a standard rubric to evaluate and ensure a consistent level of quality and alignment across the state. However, districts and schools will determine what unique pathways they intend to offer based on regional and local needs and resources. Information on the designation process and associated innovation incentives will be released soon. For more information about Tennessee Pathways, please contact Jerre.Maynor@tn.gov. For media inquiries, please contact Sara.Gast@tn.gov.