Only Half Of Senior Grads In This State Are Going To College

Only half of Tennessee seniors are opting for college, in an alarming trend depicting the shift from higher education.

By Erika Hanson | Published

University Warns Professors Not To Discuss Abortions Or Contraception With Students

Tennessee seniors

All across the nation, the state of higher education is in turmoil. The worth of a college degree is being questioned more than ever before, more people are opting for trade skills programs, or simply entering the workforce right after graduation. As states continue to report college enrollment declines, one state is fighting that dip drastically, as a new report shows that only half of Tennessee seniors are heading to college after graduation.

The Associated Press reported on a government-run state report that tracks how many Tennessee seniors head to college the next school year after high school graduation. During the 2020-2021 school year, only 52.8% of Tennesee students opted for higher education the following Fall. Remarkably, these findings also included technical schools as well as colleges and universities. 

Tennesee Higher Ed Commision

The report, which was issued by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, detailed college admission rates for Tennessee seniors over the past decade. This past year was the lowest recorded college-going rate during the last ten years, however, the pattern shows a steady decline in recent years. The rate peaked in 2015, when 64.4% of Tennesee seniors headed straight for college. That rate slightly dropped over the next three years, then sharply plummeted in 2019, coinciding with the onset of the pandemic. 

From 2019  to 2021, the rate at which Tennessee seniors attended college the next year plummeted by nine percentage points. Economic shifts during the pandemic likely played a lot into this trend. As employers offered more money to incentivize workers in a labor-stricken pandemic, more college-aged teens opted for steady, higher pay. Uncertainty was also presumably a big factor, culminating with the degree to which more and more students are tending to see college as being a risky investment.

The alarming rate at which Tennessee seniors have declined to go to college after graduation may be startling but fits national trends, surprisingly enough. AP also reported that freshmen enrollment rates dropped by 9.2% nationally between 2019 and 2021. Likewise, a look into Tennesee’s report on aspects of gender and race mirrors national trends. 59% of females went straight to college, but only 46% of males did, reversing an old trend. But keeping with the norm, the majority of college freshmen goers were white, while 44% were black, and only 35% were Hispanic. 

Understanding that steps need to be taken to address this alarming rate at which fewer Tennessee seniors are opting for higher education, the state is already looking for ways to combat the growing issue. According to reports from WPLN news, Tennessee students will be treated to state-wide tuition freezes next fall. This never before seen maneuver will ensure that all four-year universities, two-year colleges, along with technical and private schools will keep tuition costs at the same level they were this year.

The decision, which was passed by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission on May 19th, was done so in hopes to attract more Tennessee seniors into higher ed. The move was made possible by Republican Gov. Bill Lee and state lawmakers. Congress approved a measure to funnel $90 million in taxpayer dollars into the state’s high ed budget. Furthermore, institutions were granted more than $47 million to fund a 4% employee salary increase to keep up with inflation.

This tuition freeze was done so explicitly in part to raise Tennessee senior college-going rates. But considering the state already has had a long-standing issue with this, keeping prices at the same level they currently are is likely not going to combat the problem. The biggest issue is obvious: students simply do not want to attain a college degree and become massively in debt for the majority of their adult life. Until the prices come down, nothing will likely change.