Recommendation 4

Community Approach to Supporting Postsecondary Enrollment & Completion

The Nashville Metro Council, Tennessee state legislature, and postsecondary institutions should provide flexibility and tailor postsecondary enrollment and completion supports to better address barriers to student access and success.


When discussing the biggest challenges MNPS faces in supporting students as they make their postsecondary decisions, Chief Strategy Officer Sarah Chin shared that cost and affordability are one of the biggest concerns and that the city needs to have a serious conversation about the opportunity cost of going to college for many students.

“Students are struggling with the value proposition of going to college. In addition, we are living in a city where many of the students are working while in high school to support themselves and their families. Continuing to do that while pursuing a postsecondary degree is extremely challenging,” said Chin. Additionally, Eric Farmer, Outreach Specialist for the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC), indicated that if students are not exposed to the concept of financial aid, scholarships and grants at an early age, they often make their mind up too early that postsecondary education is not an option for them. This underscores the need for early and consistent education regarding the options around postsecondary education as well as a citywide conversation about the costs – including the opportunity costs – of a college education.

Affordability and the complex nature of accessing and maintaining financial aid is a significant barrier to many students. One of many examples that illustrate this issue is the Pell Grant, a federal financial aid award given to U.S. citizens and eligible noncitizens pursuing an undergraduate education who demonstrate “exceptional financial need.”

MNPS Student households with an income under $26,000
MNPS Student households with an income under $55,000

68% of MNPS students come from households with a reported income under $26,000 and would be considered full-Pell eligible. In total, 81% of student households made a reported income of under $55,000 and would receive a partial amount of the Pell Grant. While the grant continues to support MNPS’ graduates, it has failed to keep up with the growing cost of a postsecondary education. Additionally, MNPS has a growing number of New American students, some of whom would not qualify for the Pell Grant due to citizenship requirements and/or lack of documentation and would have additional barriers to opportunity.

Additional barriers exist outside of the financial component, specifically the transition culturally and systemically to higher education institutions. To support student transitions to postsecondary institutions, MNPS has formalized partnerships with local colleges and universities through University MNPS. For over a decade, Belmont University has offered dedicated scholarships for MNPS students from select schools and recently expanded to all zoned high schools in the district. Fisk University, Lipscomb University, Nashville State Community College (NSCC), and Tennessee State University have also joined University MNPS through formal partnership with the district. Each scholarship varies in size, requirements, and support.

  • Scholarship Name: Bell Tower Scholars
  • Scholarship Benefits: Covers full cost of tuition, room, and board. Six-Week Summer academy to prepare students for the transition.
  • Number Available: 50
  • Requirements: Minimum 3.0 Weighted GPA
  • Scholarship Name: N/A
  • Scholarship Benefits: Covers the full cost of tuition
  • Number Available: 10
  • Requirements: Previously enrolled in a business-related academy; Minimum 3.3 Unweighted GPA; 21 or higher ACT
  • Scholarship Name: Lift Off to Lipscomb
  • Scholarship Benefits: Covers full cost of tuition.
  • Number Available: 10
  • Requirements: Minimum 2.75 Unweighted GPA; 21 or higher ACT; Major in Education at Lipscomb
  • Scholarship Name: Nash GRAD
  • Scholarship Benefits: Monthly stipends for personal expenses and textbooks. Dedicated advisor support. Career development services.
  • Number Available: --
  • Requirements: Enroll Full-time for GRAD, part-time for FLEX; Be eligible for TN Promise
  • Scholarship Name: Trailblazing Scholarship
  • Scholarship Benefits: Covers full cost of tuition, room, and board
  • Number Available: 100
  • Requirements: Minimum 3.2 Unweighted GPA; 20 or higher ACT composite score only
Key Learnings & Perspectives

The committee had the opportunity to hear more about specific scholarships from Belmont’s Jozef Lukey (who was also a committee member), Lipscomb’s Laura Delgado, and NSCC’s Lindsay Hager, each of whom serves in student support roles at their respective institutions. Highlights include:

1. Postsecondary is a jump from high school academically, and it takes time for students to adjust.

2. Many students continue to work and may struggle to balance academics and work.

3. Various obstacles can derail a student’s education (i.e. transportation, bills, etc.)

These notes align with the results from a report from the Education Trust-Tennessee, “A New Promise: Ensuring Equitable Financial Aid Design for College Students in Tennessee,” in which they share key findings from survey results and a focus group consisting of Pell-eligible students. Those results showed that Pell recipients often feel underprepared and unsupported, and that success requires tradeoffs and sacrifices to continue to persist in college. In addition, Pell-eligible students were twice as likely to work over 20 hours a week as their non-Pell-eligible peers. 30% of Pell-eligible students reported working over 30 hours a week while in school, and 47% of all survey participants responded that they were financially responsible for a dependent or another member of their family. Considering the struggles that a large majority of MNPS students face, how can we better support success for MNPS’ graduates?

MNPS’s effort to build bridges for students to enroll and attend local institutions is no small feat and should be applauded. Still, opportunities are limited and there is a greater need for students to be supported as they transition and face known barriers. Further, these institutions can expand upon their supportive resources and practices, creating educational opportunities to demystify and clarify the enrollment, registration and ongoing eligibility practices and requirements.

Undocumented students, often having grown up in Nashville and attended MNPS schools for many years, have limited opportunities when considering postsecondary education. They are ineligible for any federal or state aid and are also ineligible for in-state tuition rates at public institutions. For example, at Nashville State Community College, a year of in-state tuition is priced at $4,498. That cost skyrockets to $17,698 for a student considered to be out-of-state, and that price increase is consistent across all public institutions within the state. To make postsecondary education possible, students without documentation often have no choice but to rely on private scholarships to fund their education. While scholarship organizations like Equal Chance for Education offer life-changing opportunities, the demand outpaces the scholarships that are available. Given this reality and the state’s emphasis on increasing postsecondary enrollment, it is worth considering whether Tennessee should shift to one tuition rate for community colleges.

The Education Trust-Tennessee report calls out that the Tennessee Student Assistance Award (TSAA) is the only state-based aid that is solely need-based and is the only award in Tennessee that does not penalize students for attending part-time. Increased funding to expand TSAA, along with an increased award amount, would go a long way to support the students who need it most amid rising costs.

Metro Nashville City Council has created a model for building our workforce by funding Nashville GRAD and Nashville Flex, stipends to Nashville State Community College that support full-time and part-time students with funds for textbooks, gas, groceries, tools, and equipment. The Belmont Bell Tower Scholarship also provides support beyond tuition with a six-week summer academy to assist in building a smooth transition, creating a system of support and belonging. Each of these scholarships include dedicated advising and career development support throughout a student’s postsecondary journey. It is worth considering how these offerings could be replicated and expanded in support of persistence and completion across multiple postsecondary institutions in our region.


Nashville is growing and will continue to have a high demand for talent for the foreseeable future. At the same time, the U.S. began to see drastically declining birthrates in 2008, a trend that did not level out until 2018. As a result, the number of students eligible to pursue a postsecondary education is estimated to drop 15% after 2025, a phenomenon called “the enrollment cliff” by the higher education community. With the enrollment cliff set to hit our colleges, universities, and talent providers, now is the time to determine the support needed for all students to succeed in postsecondary and career, ensuring every student is known today and beyond their time at MNPS.

While support for postsecondary success is most traditionally thought of as financial assistance for tuition, there are far more creative approaches required. Nuance and adjustment are likely needed to address the arduous application process, eligibility requirements that may penalize non-traditional students, and many more complexities that create barriers to access and completion of postsecondary education. The committee would encourage key decision makers to revisit who is most benefiting from these programs and reflect on whether they are serving those with the greatest need and their intended purpose. Many non-traditional supports like transportation, laptops or even food stipends create flexibility for students facing significant financial instability while they are enrolled in postsecondary education. Lastly, the transition from high school to higher education can be challenging and culturally foreign for many students and their parents. Higher education institutions and state agencies such as the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) and Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) would be well served to increase enrollment and persistence by examining what social supports and complicated processes could be better explained or simplified altogether. The committee is also interested in seeing how employers can learn from these creative approaches.

While some community-based organizations assist students through these transitions, there is a broader community need to support students in matriculating successfully into postsecondary opportunity. With emphasis on students who have traditionally experienced challenges with access and persistence (economically disadvantaged students, working students, and undocumented populations), the committee is interested in opportunities to better assist MNPS students and families through supports that address the actual barriers students face in enrolling, persisting, and completing a postsecondary degree or credential.

To accomplish this will require a citywide effort to address these barriers through both investment, coordination, and a reimagining of current supports.

Recommendation 1:

MNPS should evaluate the impacts and effectiveness of grants supporting K-12 postsecondary advising and create a plan for sustainability and scalability based on evaluation results.

Recommendation 2:

MNPS should ensure their advising strategy clearly identifies how external community partners can best augment and reinforce the district's advising efforts to ensure all students have a pathway to a successful career.

Recommendation 3:

MNPS should meaningfully encourage the full adoption of a postsecondary advising data collection and analysis mechanism available to appropriate staff and community-based partners engaged in postsecondary advising with support from state and other partners.
The Education Report 2023 Commendations
Of course, our committee doesn’t work alone on this project. Without the help of our community and network, the 2023 Education Report would’ve never come together. If you’ve finished reading over our recommendations, please take a minute to appreciate our thanks for those who made this whole thing possible.