BLOUNTVILLE — At least two Sullivan County economic development officials plan to help area high schools do a better job educating all students, members of the Tennessee Board of Regents were told Thursday.
The announcement, at Northeast State Technical Community College, came after Northeast State President Bill Locke and Kingsport Times-News Publisher Keith Wilson released a sobering statistic: Fewer than 5 percent of 2004 high school graduates who entered Northeast State that fall and required remedial work have graduated three years later.
“In three years, three (out of 61) of them graduated — 4.9 percent in three years,” Locke said. “It may be politically unpopular, but we’ve got to do something.”
The statistics showed that of 572 high school graduates who entered Northeast State in the fall of 2004, 61 required remedial learning (meaning they were at about the eighth-grade level), 334 required developmental work (meaning they were at about the 10th-grade level) and 177 were college ready.
Of the remedial students, only 4.9 percent graduated from Northeast State. Of the developmental students, 12.6 percent had graduated, and of the college-level students, 37.9 percent had graduated from the two-year school.
Among remedial students, 29.5 percent remained in school compared to 26.9 percent of developmental students and 14.7 percent of college-level students.
Of the remedial students, 65.6 percent are no longer enrolled and didn’t graduate, as opposed to 60.5 percent of developmental students and 47.5 percent of college-level students.
All told, from 2003 through 2006, about 70 percent — or 1,584 of 2,260 students — were either remedial or developmental.
Locke in an interview said many of the college-ready group who left Northeast State without graduating had transferred to four-year schools, but most if not all of the remedial students who hadn’t graduated and left probably were out of school for good.
Wilson said the Tennessee Press Association is seeking a presentation of the statistics and plans to address the problem at its November meeting.
Locke, Wilson and former Kingsport Mayor Jeanette Blazier addressed a special Board of Regents session before today’s regular meeting. The regents oversee all Tennessee four-year and two-year schools and technology centers outside the University of Tennessee system.
Blazier recounted how ideas out of a 1999 Kingsport economic development summit grew into the Regional Center for Applied Technology (RCAT) in downtown Kingsport. The Northeast State operation has grown to 1,000 students and is at capacity.
Locke and Wilson said the region has vacant jobs because of a shortage of applicants with the needed qualifications and education.
Locke said NETWORKS – Sullivan Partnership, of which he and Wilson are members, plans to work with Dobyns-Bennett, Sullivan North, Sullivan South, Sullivan Central and Sullivan East high schools to change the culture of the region “so the expectation (is) that every high school graduate will go to college.”
NETWORKS is a joint economic development partnership of Sullivan County, Kingsport, Bristol, Tenn., and Bluff City. It is led by Richard Venable, a former Sullivan County mayor and state representative.
“Communities are going to have to get into the higher education business,” Wilson said of Kingsport’s $12 million commitment to building a higher education center downtown — to include four-year degree programs — and another $4.6 million pledged to build an allied health center, both to be overseen by Northeast State.
In addition, the Board of Regents heard about the Education and Grow scholarships at Northeast State funded by Kingsport, Sullivan County and other Northeast Tennessee localities.
“What you’re hearing today is nothing less than phenomenal,” said Dr. Paul Stanton, president of East Tennessee State University and former dean of the medical school there. “They’re (Locke, Wilson and Blazier) doing it for the next generation of children to come along.”
Locke said other goals of the p-16, or pre-kindergarten through bachelor’s degree, program are:
• Work for every high school graduate to have the skills necessary to get a job or enroll in college with no remedial or developmental classes needed.
• Identify every student who wants to go to college, test them in the 11th grade using the ACT or a Northeast State assessment, and initiate needed remediation in the 12th grade.
• “Significantly” raise the standard scores on the Gateway exams to a level matching national test standards.
• Have every high school graduate who is academically ready attain 15 hours of college-level credit before graduating high school.
• Encourage dual-enrollment classes paid for by the Sullivan County Education and Grow Scholarship Program, which provides four semesters of tuition to qualifying public, private and home-schooled Sullivan County seniors starting the fall after they graduate high school.
• Make every Advanced Placement high school class a dual-enrollment class that can be paid for by the Tennessee lottery and Educate and Grow scholarship.
• Increase participation in the Career Fast Track program and support the full-year Fast Track beyond the current half-year program.
And create special-emphasis high schools, high schools within high schools, and “ Learn and Earn” early college high schools.
“You can’t separate economic development and education,” Blazier told the regents, college presidents and others in attendance. “ Get your politicians involved in singing that song. You have to keep saying it and saying it and saying it and saying it.”