Fewer Tennessee students going to college, officials say

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The number of Tennessee high school students going to college is down, and state education officials are working to get those numbers back up.

Meanwhile, in a changing world, some say they’re choosing other alternatives outside of college.

“If you want to educate yourself, that’s the best education you can get,” said one person who wished to remain anonymous.

Now, in a more modern society, people seem to be open to take on the many options that are being made fully available to those who opt out of attending a postsecondary institution.

“College isn’t for everybody, just a different route,” said Tyson Walters, a college graduate who chose to switch paths for something more flexible. Walters has been a truck driver for more than four years. “It’s how life goes, and I chose to take a different route.”

Meantime, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) said the college-going rate for Tennessee high school students has dropped from 63.8% in 2017 to 52.8% in 2021. State education leaders are now sharing three major goals they will implement to address and improve those numbers:

  • Increase the college-going rate for the high school class of 2023 to at least 60 percent.
  • Increase adult enrollment in higher education through Tennessee Reconnect participation.
  • Improve coordination and alignment in education and workforce training to ensure students have portable and stackable options for greater economic mobility.

“It’s good, but I just say it depends on if that person wants to go to school. It should be their choice,” said Walters.

FOX13 took a look at the official numbers to find out how many Memphis high school students attended college over the past five years.

According to state data from 2017 to 2021, Middle College High School and White Station High School have the highest college-going rates for 2021, at 79.4% and 70.1%.

The lowest in 2021, according to state analysis, is Woodale High School with only 9.9% of students going to college in 2021 and only 12.1% were reported to choose postsecondary options at Hamilton High School.

However, some say low numbers in this case don’t necessarily equate to something “bad”. In a new modern era, graduates are choosing other alternatives, and in some cases, choices that are more flexible and lucrative.

“A lot of folks are going back to get into tech,” said Walters. “They got programs where you do a tech boot camp in about six weeks and get you a six-figure job.”

Meanwhile, Miami native Eric Alonso told FOX13 he also chose a non-traditional path. Alonso was in the Bluff City on business; he said he visits the Memphis area often for work.

He’s been driving trucks for the past15 yearss and said he enjoys the liberation and independence.

“It’s the freedom that I have, and I get to get home now, buy a ticket to Paris and go, and not thinking that when I go back home, I might be fired.”

Meantime, enrollment numbers are also down across the nation. According to the latest numbers released by the National Student Clearinghouse, 662,000 fewer students enrolled in college programs in Spring 2022 than the year before. This data reflects a 4.7% decline.