UT Study: ‘Daunting’ Economic Challenges for State

KNOXVILLE — More than 80 percent of parents in Tennessee expect their children to get college degrees, but 17 percent of high school juniors and seniors have not yet decided how far they will go in school.

Just over one-half of high school juniors and seniors intend to continue their education within a year of high school graduation, but many other students plan to work, take time off or get married.

Surveys of 3,012 adults in Tennessee and 10,976 high school juniors and seniors show Tennesseans have much higher expectations for themselves and their children completing post-secondary education than is the current reality in Tennessee, according to a University of Tennessee study.

The study, “Understanding Tennesseans’ Attitudes about Education,” was conducted by researchers at the UT Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) for the state Office of the Comptroller of the Treasury to determine what value Tennesseans place on education. The study is “one step toward understanding how best to develop policies and programs to improve the state’s educational system and remove barriers to educational attainment,” CBER Director William F. Fox said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 22 percent of Tennesseans age 25 or older have bachelors degrees or higher, compared to 27 percent nationally.

Gov. Phil Bredesen announced a goal for Tennessee to achieve a 90 percent high school graduation rate and a 55 percent college graduation rate in his State of the State address on Feb. 7.

Based on the survey results, “education and workforce development are arguably the most daunting economic development challenges confronting the state today,” Fox said. “If the state can realize the expectations for lifelong learning expressed in these surveys, dramatic improvements will be seen in Tennessee’s labor force.”

The study identifies several obstacles:

-Many employed adults do not feel their employers encourage them to continue their education.

-Only 34 percent of employed adults believe they would make more money in their current jobs, even if they got more education.

-Parents with lower education levels and lower incomes have lower expectations for their children.

-Young men generally have more negative attitudes about their schools, their classes and the overall value of education than young women, and they are less likely to plan for a college education.

-High school students who say they lack support from teachers or administrators or lack support at home are more likely to believe education is not important to achieving their life goals.

-One-third of parents say they do not have enough information about the cost of college to start planning how to finance it.

The study also examines Tennesseans’ perceptions of the quality of education in Tennessee; the reasons adults and youth give for not wanting to continue their education; and details on the use of various funding options, such as 529 savings plans and lottery scholarships.

The full report is available from the Center for Business and Economic Research at http://cber.bus.utk.edu or the Tennessee Office of the Comptroller of the Treasury at http://www.comptroller.state.tn.us/.

Amy Blakely, (865) 974-5034, amy.blakely@tennessee.edu

William F. Fox, (865) 974-5441, billfox@tennessee.edu

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