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Tennessee first-time community college enrollment down 19% since beginning of pandemic

By Nadia Ramligan, TN Public News Service

A new study adds to evidence that higher-education credentials can increase a person’s earning power over a lifetime.

The research from economists at Kansas State University says completing a bachelor’s degree increases a person’s income by around $4,000 right after graduation, with additional jumps of more than $1,000 in following years.

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Emily House, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, said the state is concerned about economic mobility and workforce development as fewer people return to college.

We’ve really seen a sharp decrease in enrollment of adult learners,” said House, “so, adults coming back to higher education, or engaging in higher education for the first time as adults.”

She added the colleges are reaching out to community organizations and faith groups, and partnering with employers to help people find about retraining opportunities. And the state’s Reconnect Navigators can help guide a person through the process of going back to college or enrolling for the first time.

More information about navigators is online at ‘’

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House said adult learners have options through the state’s Reconnect Program, and notes that those who meet certain criteria may even be able to attend a local community college without paying tuition or fees.

“A lot of financial aid opportunity for those choosing to go back to school as an adult,” said House. “We have a call center here at the Higher Ed Commission; we have a lot of outreach specialists. Anybody who needs additional information can find us on the web, as well as just via phone.”

State data show enrollment has declined at every Tennessee community college, with the number of first-time, full-time college students falling by 19% compared to before the pandemic.

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