For more than three decades, the state of Tennessee has operated under the provisions of a federal court order that mandates the termination and remediation of all elements of de jure segregation in its public colleges and universities. During this period, considerable resources have been expended to comply with this order and there has significant progress to change the landscape of higher education for the citizens of Tennessee.
This progress is epitomized by the significant increases in college participation rates for African American students. From 1993 to fall 2003, overall headcount enrollment in Tennessee increased 1.3 percent, from 193,342 students to 195,881. While overall enrollment remained relatively constant during this period, significant increases in African American enrollment were evidenced across both two and four year institutions. From 1993-2003, African American enrollment increased 27.4 percent, from 28,424 students in 1993 to 36,266 students by fall 2003. During this same period, several institutions experienced dramatic growth for this demographic group. In particular, African American headcount enrollment increased 62 percent at the University of Memphis, 91.1 percent at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, and 90.3 percent at Nashville State Technical Community College. Across all institutions, each experienced positive increases with respect to enrollment of African American students. In fact, much of the overall enrollment growth during this period was driven by the increased participation rates of African American students.
When examining enrollment patterns over a broader timeframe, this impact is especially pronounced at institutions such as the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga (UTC). In 1984, UTC's overall headcount enrollment stood at 7,474, of which 11.5 percent were African Americans. By fall 2003, UTC's overall enrollment had increased to 8,528, representing an increase of 14.1 percent. However, the enrollment of African Americans increased 87.3 percent during this period. In 1984, 858 African Americans were enrolled at UTC, while in fall 2003 1,607 (19 percent of overall enrollment) were enrolled at the institution. Similar increases are evident upon examination of the numerical diversity of entering freshman across Tennessee public higher education. In 1984, African Americans comprised 15.8 percent of first-time, full-time freshman enrolled in this state. By Fall 2003, this percentage had increased to 18 percent.
Another area of emphasis in Tennessee that has enjoyed steady progress during this period is persistence to graduation rates. For the 1985 entering freshman cohort, the overall persistence to graduation rate at public four-year colleges and universities was 43.1 percent. When examining this cohort by race, the persistence rate for white students was 46.8 percent, while the rate for African Americans was 24.0 percent. Thus, for the first cohort of students enrolled after the 1984 Stipulation of Settlement Agreement, significant differences existed between African American and Caucasian persistence rates. For the 1997 cohort, the statewide average persistence to graduation rate improved to 48.7 percent. When examining the 1997 cohort by race, 43.7 percent of African American freshman graduated within six years, compared to 50.1 percent of their white peers. Although the persistence rates for African Americans remains below their other race peers, this demographic group experienced a 19 percent increase over the course of the cycle, compared to a three percent increase for Caucasian students.
The educational products provided by higher education to the citizens of Tennessee have become increasingly important as economic and social changes have placed greater emphasis upon the receipt of a college degree as a medium of social mobility. This movement will only continue as the state's economy shifts in the information age from the historical focus on physical capital to an emphasis on human capital. Because of the growing importance of human capital, it is critical that all sectors of society have access to the benefits that accrue from the receipt of a baccalaureate degree. Successful diversity initiatives will be critical in coming decades if the state is to move forward in the 21st century. As Tennessee becomes increasingly multicultural, the need for colleges and universities to prepare students for an increasingly diverse workforce will be magnified exponentially. The future of Tennessee is directly linked to the presence of an educated population that can contribute to the labor force, the economy, and society as a whole.