In Tennessee we've created innovative workforce partnerships and game-changing education reform for skills in high demand. The result is a steady pipeline of qualified candidates for companies doing business in our state.
Tennessee is leading the way nationwide in K–12 education reform. We have continued that momentum and expanded our focus to include postsecondary education through a critical mission called Drive to 55, which aims to bring the percentage of Tennesseans with college degrees or certificates to 55 percent by the year 2025. While it is certainly a mission for higher education, it's also a mission for workforce and economic development.
Tennessee Promise, an initiative within Drive to 55, offers high school seniors of tuition-free attendance at one of Tennessee's 13 community colleges or 27 colleges of applied technology. In just the first year of Tennessee Promise, first-time freshman enrollment increased by 10 percent. Overall, since the launch of Tennessee Promise in 2013, first-time freshman enrollment has grown by 13 percent. The first class of Tennessee Promise students entered school and the workforce training pipeline in the fall of 2015.
Tennessee was the first state in the country to make this promise and while other states have since attempted to create similar programs, it makes a clear statement to Tennessee families that education beyond high school is a priority in our state. It's also a promise to current and prospective employers: When you bring your business to Tennessee, you'll have the support of a devoted and highly skilled workforce.
There are a number of innovative education and workforce partnerships throughout our state led by some of the world's most recognizable brands that call Tennessee home. Volkswagen, Nissan, Bridgestone and Electrolux, to name a few, have all partnered with area community colleges to develop programs to strengthen the pipeline of future talent in Tennessee.
We know that by 2025 at least half the jobs in this state will require a college degree or certificate. Mathematically, there's no way to reach that goal just by equipping high school graduates with degrees. In May, we made history by signing the Tennessee Reconnect Act, making Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer all citizens — both high school graduates and adults — the chance to earn a postsecondary degree or certificate free of tuition and fees and at no cost to taxpayers.
Just as we did with Tennessee Promise, we want Tennessee Reconnect to send a clear message to everyone in Tennessee: no matter who you are, no matter what your educational path has been in the past, no matter what your income level is — you can go to college for free in Tennessee. By getting that message out, we can do two things: one, we can dramatically change the trajectory of a lot of people's lives, and two, we become highly competitive when it comes to recruiting business.
Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect provide new opportunities for individuals, but it's also about a better economic future for everyone in Tennessee.
—By Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam
Editor's note: This commentary was written before the release of the Top States 2017 data. The governor did not have knowledge of the rankings or the comprehensive data.