Adding some specifics to his new goal of doubling the number of college graduates living in Nashville in just five years, Mayor Karl Dean announced plans Monday to create a new summer academy aimed at preparing Metro students for college.
Dean, embarking on his second term in office, first mentioned his college graduate initiative in his inauguration speech last month, but offered no measures or mechanisms to help reach the daunting challenge in such a quick timeframe. Currently, 20.6 percent of Davidson County residents hold a bachelor’s degree, while approximately 25 percent of former Metro high school graduates complete college within six years.
On Monday, speaking before the Rotary Club of Nashville, Dean offered some new details, discussing plans for The SCHoLAR’s Academy, a new six- to eight-week training program designed to improve students’ ACT scores and reduce the number of students who take remedial and development courses in colleges. The academy, which the mayor’s office will oversee, is set to launch next summer.
“We need to do more than just get our students to graduate from high school,” Dean said, as he made the case that the economic vibrancy of a city is dependent on its number of college graduates. “We need them to graduate from high school prepared to succeed in college.
“Not only do I believe we can accomplish this, but I believe we are uniquely positioned to become a national model for how a city can usher an unprecedented number of public high school students into college classrooms,” he said.
Dean described what would “ideally be a multi-year program,” with the academy catering to students just beginning high school all the way through their entry to post-secondary school. The SCHoLAR’s Academy stands for “Students Choosing Higher Learning and Achieving Success.”
The first academy location is set to open at the Main Library downtown. Dean said it would work in partnership with similar existing programs offered by the nonprofit Oasis Center and others. The mayor didn’t delve into how the academy would be funded but said he is committed to devoting the necessary dollars to increase Nashville’s number of college graduates.
Dean said three areas must be addressed to reach his five-year goal: graduate students from high school and prepare them for college; help students enroll in college or trade school; and assist students in their efforts to complete post-secondary school.
“To be clear, The SCHoLAR’s Academy is not an end-all, be-all solution to increasing our city’s graduation rate,” Dean said. “This is just one piece to the puzzle.”
Throughout his speech, the mayor framed expanding Nashville’s college graduate base as a fundamental requisite to compete in the ever-changing global economy.
“Our economy is no longer driven by those who manufacture goods but, instead, those who generate ideas,” he said.
Dean offered the following statistics: The unemployment rate for those who lack a high school diploma is 14 percent, compared to 4.2 percent for those with a four-year degree. The average value of a four-year college degree –– compared to not having a high school diploma –– is nearly $1 million in additional earnings over a 40-year career. He also said increasing by just 1 percent the number of adults with a bachelor’s degree in Nashville would generate an economic return in per capita income of $1.1 billion.
In his speech, Dean also said he plans to ask the Tennessee General Assembly to pass legislation to remove financial barriers for students who want to take dual enrollment courses. He said Tennessee Lottery funds help pay for dual enrollment costs but not total costs.
“We need to eliminate this financial barrier,” he said.