By EMILY R. WEST
According to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, Williamson County’s college-bound student rate has reached a new high of nearly 83 percent.
The data set looked at high school students who were enrolled at any higher education institution – community college, university, in-state, out-of-state, public or private. Only public high school graduates were included in the college-going calculations.
Williamson is on track to help meet the state’s goals. Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 plan asks that nearly 55 percent of Tennesseans have a certification or degree. According to Tennessee Achieves, the mentorship program for the state, Williamson County has a degree attainment level of 70 percent. Their goal is to reach 80.6 percent by 2025.
And during the last six years, the trend has only gone up for Williamson. Starting in 2009, the district had only 54.5 percent of its students attending a post-secondary institution. Six years later, that number has jumped by 28 percent.
Superintendent Mike Looney said he attributes growth to the district’s focus.
“The conversation has intensified about relaying post-secondary options for our students, and what they need to do to get there,” Looney said. “Our counselors have put a lot of emphasis on education beyond high school and tracking high school scholarship applications. As a result, our scholarship dollars have grown immensely.”
Looney said the district also worked on making sure students were admitted into the college pipeline, primarily through the Hope Scholarship Program and now Tennessee Promise. Now, 75 percent of WCS students qualify for the Hope Lottery scholarship.
“They are more apt to go if their moms and dads don’t have to find the money,” Looney said.
Moving forward, Looney said he wanted to keep the bar raised high for Williamson schools.
“I think the school district’s goal should be what the district’s needs are,” he said. “I read a New York Times article talking about employers needing more soft skills. We want to make sure we have students who have their athletic, artistic and academic prowess tended to. But we want our students’ soft skills to be just as successful.”
From a county standpoint, Williamson, Inc. CEO Matt Largen said this type of statistic is a win for the business community.
“The kind of jobs we attract require advanced degrees,” Largen said. “The more corporate headquarters we attract, the higher it goes. Correlation doesn’t equal causation, but those jobs require advanced degrees. It’s extraordinary we’ve grown that much in such a short amount of time. That’s a great recruiting tool that it’s in the 80th percentile.”