Groundbreaking Initiatives


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.

Tennessee is leading the way nationwide in K-12 education reform. We have continued that momentum and expanded our focus to include post-secondary education through a pair of innovative initiatives: Drive to 55 and the Tennessee Promise.  

Drive to 55 aims to bring the percentage of Tennesseans with college degrees or certifications to 55 percent by the year 2025. It’s not just a mission for higher education; it’s also a mission for workforce and economic development.

Overall enrollment in Tennessee public higher education has increased by 13%. More than 33,000 students have enrolled in the Tennessee Promise, which commits to providing two years of community or technical college absolutely free of tuition and fees to graduating high school seniors on a continual basis. The first class of Tennessee Promise students entered school and the workforce training pipeline in the Fall of 2015.

We are the first state in the country to make this promise. 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.


Tennessee Promise Students Enrolled in Fall 2016


One Year Increase in Overall Enrollment in Tennessee Public Higher Education from 2014 to 2016.

# Higher education in Tennessee:
  • 10 public universities
  • 35 independent colleges and universities
  • 13 community colleges
  • 27 Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (occupational and technical training)
  • Poised to achieve a 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020
  • More than 370,000 people enrolled in college in 2016
  • 67,665 graduates with an Associate’s degree or higher in 2016

Education reform

Tennessee is leading the nation in education reform.

  • Tennessee students have the fastest improving science scores in the nation, according to the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 
  • The percentage of Tennesseans (age 25-64 years) with a high school diploma or equivalent has increased from 85 percent to 89.1 percent from 2006 to 2016. This increase of 4.1 percentage points ranks #3 in the nation.  (U.S. Census)
  • The percentage of Tennesseans (age 25-64 years) with an associate’s degree or higher increased from 29.9% to 35.7% from 2006 to 2016. This increase of 5.8 percentage points ranks #5 in the nation. (U.S. Census)
  • In addition, the number of Tennesseans (age 25-64 years) with a bachelor’s degree or higher increased by 5.1 percent, from 23.4 percent to 27.7 percent, over this same time period. 
  • Currently, approximately 70,000 full-time students are enrolled at Tennessee’s community colleges and colleges of applied technology. (Tennessee Higher Education Commission)
  • Through Tennessee Promise, beginning in 2015, high school graduates in Tennessee can attend a community college or college of applied technology for two years absolutely free of tuition and fees.

Students in Tennessee were awarded over 86,000 degrees and certificates in 2016, in dozens of programs, including the top twenty below:

Top 20 Programs (based on completions) 2016 Completions
Liberal Arts and Sciences/Liberal Studies 8,770
Business Administration and Management, General 5,032
Registered Nursing/Registered Nurse 4,841
Psychology, General 2,073
Cosmetology/Cosmetologist, General 1,567
Medical/Clinical Assistant 1,430
Multi-/Interdisciplinary Studies, Other 1,351
Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurse Training 1,337
Biology/Biological Sciences, General 1,300
Accounting 1,229
Social Work 1,122
Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement Administration 1,004
Kinesiology and Exercise Science 984
Emergency Medical Technology/Technician (EMT Paramedic) 903
English Language and Literature, General 888
Business/Commerce, General 868
Health and Physical Education/Fitness, General 808
General Studies 762
Teacher Education, Multiple Levels 730
Health Services/Allied Health/Health Sciences, General 715

STEM and STEM-related completions at Tennessee institutions were approximately 32,593 in 2016, an increase of 14.4 percent in just five years. Graduates in engineering, engineering technologies and engineering-related fields have grown by 31.9 percent in just six years (2010-2016), now totaling more than 3,700 statewide. Also, the total number of post-secondary completions has increased by 14.5 percent during the same time period.

Source: EMSI

# Educational milestones:
  • Tennessee was one of the first two states in the nation awarded $501 million in federal Race to the Top funds for education reform. 
  • Tennessee was one of the first states to implement a comprehensive, student outcomes-based, statewide educator evaluation system. 
  • We were the first state to fund higher education institutions based on outcomes instead of enrollment, ensuring that every student is making progress toward a degree and ultimately leaving with a credential that has value in the labor market.
  • Tennessee’s Four-Year adjusted Cohort Graduation Rates (ACGR) increased 2.4% from 2011 to 2015 and is poised to achieve a 90-percent graduation rate by 2020 (Source: Building a Grad Nation Report, America’s Promise Alliance)
  • One of Gov. Bill Haslam’s key policy objectives is Drive to 55, an initiative to equip 55 percent of Tennesseans with a college degree or certificate by the year 2025.
  • In 2014, the state of Tennessee allocated $10 million through Tennessee LEAP (Labor Education Alignment Program) to eliminate skills gaps across the state in a proactive, data-driven and coordinated manner by encouraging collaboration across education and industry.
  • In 2016, less than two years after LEAP’s initial grant competition, an additional $10 million was appropriated in the state budget for a second grant competition (LEAP 2.0) to continue and expand upon the program’s initial success.
  • The Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) is Tennessee's largest higher education system, governing 40 post-secondary educational institutions with over 200 teaching locations. The TBR system includes 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology, providing programs to students across the state, country and world.
# World-class partnerships:

Tennessee is home to a number of innovative education and workforce partnerships:

  • In 2017, Nissan partnered with the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) in Murfreesboro to open a training center in Smyrna for careers in advanced manufacturing. These training programs are part of Tennessee’s strategy to create a pipeline of high-skilled workers in the state.
  • Volkswagen joined forces with Chattanooga State Community College to develop two three-year mechatronics degree programs accredited by the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce.
  • Bridgestone partnered with Motlow State Community College to develop a mechatronics program based on the Siemens Mechatronics Systems approach to advanced manufacturing. It’s the only program in the U.S. to offer a three-step pathway for advanced manufacturing education.
  • Educational institutions in Tennessee are also partnering together to better train Tennessee’s workforce. Credit transfer programs now exist between TCAT-Morristown & Northeast State as well as TCAT-Knoxville & Pellissippi State.
  • Electrolux and the Workforce Investment Network (WIN) partnered to provide training through WIN’s Industrial Readiness Training program. Classes are based upon Electrolux’s specifications and training requirements, and are offered at the Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis.
# Applicant recruitment:

Our applicant recruitment team is comprised of representatives from the Tennessee Career Centers, state agencies, local officials and education providers work in collaboration with your company’s human resource personnel to ensure a quick and efficient delivery of services. Most importantly, the members of the our team makes every effort to customize all aspects of the recruitment process to meet the specific needs of your company.

Our recruitment process fills approximately 33,000 job openings annually. Job orders detailing the necessary job requirements can be placed with one or more of the 75 Tennessee Career Centers located throughout the state detailing the necessary job requirements. The Tennessee Career Centers will immediately match qualified job candidates to the company’s job openings. The job order will also receive statewide and national exposure through the website, Tennessee’s premier online job resource center for candidates and prospective employers. The talent recruitment process continues with pre-screening, assessment and testing, interviewing and pre-hire training. 

# Workforce Development Programs

Drive to 55

Governor Haslam has challenged our state with a critical new mission: Drive to 55 – the Drive to get 55 percent of Tennesseans equipped with a post-secondary degree or certificate by the year 2025. It is projected that 55 percent of occupations will require this level of educational attainment, and Tennessee will be ready. 

It’s not just a mission for higher education, but a mission for Tennessee’s future workforce and economic development. 

Tennessee Promise

Tennessee Promise is both a scholarship and mentoring program focused on increasing the number of students that attend college in our state. It provides students a last-dollar scholarship, meaning the scholarship will cover tuition and fees not covered by the Pell grant, the HOPE scholarship, or state student assistance funds. Students may use the scholarship at any of the state’s 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology, or other eligible institutions offering an associate’s degree program. 

While removing the financial burden is key, a critical component of Tennessee Promise is the individual guidance each participant will receive from a mentor who will assist the student as he or she navigates the college admissions process. This is accomplished primarily via mandatory meetings that students attend in order to remain eligible for the program. In addition, Tennessee Promise participants must complete eight hours of community service per term enrolled, as well as maintain satisfactory academic progress (2.0 GPA) at their institution.

Tennessee Reconnect 

Tennessee Reconnect programs are designed to help busy adults achieve dreams of attaining a college degree or certificate to be equipped, ready and successful in today’s workforce.  

Tennessee prides itself in having an education system that is made to benefit all Tennesseans including adults, but Tennessee is home to nearly 1 million adults with some college credit but no college degree. It is impossible to achieve the goal of Drive to 55 without re-engaging these individuals and helping them complete their degree or certificate. Tennessee Reconnect focuses on adult enrollment, retention and completion of a post-secondary credential by providing direct access to higher education. Starting Fall 2017, ALL Tennessee adults can attend and earn a diploma or certificate at any of our 13 Tennessee Community Colleges or 27 Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) completely free of tuition and fees.

Explore Drive to 55

Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP)

Tennessee Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP) ensures that post-secondary institutions are producing the skills and credentials that Tennessee employers actually need. 

Tennessee LEAP eliminates skills gaps across the state in a proactive, data-driven and coordinated manner by encouraging collaboration across education and industry and by utilizing regional workforce data to identify and then fill skills gaps across the state. 

With a competitive grant distribution of $10 million in 2015, state funds are being utilized to support local alignment groups to develop skills gap forecasts, identify the highest priorities, and develop programs or purchase equipment needed to fill those gaps. 

Governor Haslam’s Workforce Sub-Cabinet, consisting of representatives from the Governor’s office, Department of Economic and Community Development, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Department of Education, Department of Human Services, Tennessee Higher Education Commission and Tennessee Board of Regents, are leading this charge and meet regularly to review, select and support the grant recipients.

View 2016 Leap Report


Tennessee aims to be the most aligned state in the nation between workforce, education and industry. Enter Workforce360°, a systematic partnership among state agencies and the higher education system that delivers a highly skilled workforce for your business. 

The best solutions are most often achieved through a collaborative approach. When companies allow us to become an extension of their workforce development and recruitment efforts, we are able to provide support that is truly unique to your business. Our project based system works with your company to identify workforce gaps and streamlines solutions across Tennessee by utilizing state department communications, interaction and resources. Region-based tactical teams provide a timely response to immediate business workforce needs, as well as strategic planning for long-term requirements.

3.11+ Million

Tennesseans Employed in March 2018

4.4 Million

Tennesseans Over 18 with a High School Degree or Higher


Education: Tech Skills Leader - Business Facilities, 2015

College of Engineering at the University of Tennessee


graduates in engineering, engineering technologies and engineering-related fields, an increase of 31.9 percent in six years.


job openings filled annually by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.