Tennessee Reconnect: An adult college promise program in Tennessee

Increasing the supply of college-educated workers is a policy priority for states across the country. Tennessee’s response to this priority is Tennessee Reconnect, a last-dollar scholarship for adults that covers tuition and fees at each of the 13 community colleges in Tennessee. TBR – The College System of Tennessee and the Nudge4 Solutions Lab are partnering to explore the success of TN Reconnect students at community colleges and to develop and test an intervention that provides adult students with tailored guidance on how they can pursue courses that build on their prior experience.


The Problem

  • The Lumina foundation estimates that to meet the near-term demands of the economy, the share of the workforce with a degree or credential must increase from 46% in 2017 to 60% by the year 2025, which translates to an additional 16.4 million degrees that must be earned beyond what is currently projected.
  • The Tennessee Reconnect application opened in February 2018, inviting current and prospective students to apply to begin receiving aid the following fall. Over 34,000 prospective students applied for Tennessee Reconnect with almost 15,000 applicants enrolling at community colleges in fall 2018.

The share of the workforce with a degree or credential must increase from 46% in 2017 to 60% by the year 2025.


Deep Dive into the Data

  • Applicants complete a questionnaire in which they self-report a number of facts, including their concerns about returning to school, what time they would like to take courses, and what, if any, work commitments they may have.
  • We have 4 additional sources of data. 1) enrollment, financial aid, and course-level data for students who were previously enrolled in a TN community college prior to applying. 2) enrollment data for Tennessee and non-Tennessee institutions through the National Student Clearinghouse. 3) data from Tennessee’s Statewide Longitudinal Data System (SLDS), which includes K-12 information, postsecondary enrollment and awards for almost all colleges in the state, and 4) employment outcomes from the state’s Unemployment Insurance database.
  • These data sources provide us with many opportunities to investigate how Reconnect students are engaging with all sectors of higher education and the workforce.


The Innovation

  • Insights from our Deep Dive into the Data may help us more accurately predict which course sequences are most beneficial and efficient for students returning to college. We may also be able to let Reconnect applicants know which degree path might best serve them, given their course histories.
  • Regardless of the outcome predicted, we believe that the combination of rich data and the advent of more advanced prediction techniques will aid in student decision-making in ways that we’ve heretofore been unable to leverage.


The Results

At community colleges, early evidence suggests that the number of adults returning (or reconnecting) to college increased by 50% and the number of first-time enrollees almost doubled. These increases reversed persistent downward trends in college-going among the adult population, despite unemployment rates plummeting to their lowest levels in the state’s recorded history.

One student said, “With the TN Reconnect program I can finally attend college at a pace that is going to help me reach my lifelong goals sooner than I anticipated.”

 Another returning student said, “Now all the reasons that once kept me from returning to classes were gone. The only thing standing in my way was myself. I decided to get past my fear of failure and go for it. I was out of excuses.


The Project Team

Jason Lee,
Senior Data Strategist
Kelli Bird,
Research Director, Nudge4
Russ Deaton,
Executive Vice Chancellor of Policy and Strategy, TBR – The College System of Tennessee

Amy Moreland,
Director of Policy, TBR – The College System of Tennessee

Ben Castleman, Founder and Director, Nudge4
Katherine Flaschen, Behavioral Scientist
Office of Policy and Strategy,
TBR – The College System of Tennessee

Our Funders