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Nashville Area Colleges and Universities Keep Talent Flowing to Growing Industries

Colleges and universities produce talent that keeps the Nashville area's economic engine running.

By Teree Caruthers on April 17, 2018


Nicknamed the Athens of the South, Nashville is by all accounts a well-educated city. More than 35 percent of adults in the Nashville area have a bachelor’s degree or higher, with 266,000 of them in STEM or business-related fields, and the region’s 24 colleges and universities enroll more than 123,000 students – the largest concentration in a four-state region.

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“Our universities provide a powerful local pipeline of young and seasoned talent, both homegrown and imported from all over the nation and the globe, to continually fuel the business and industry engines already thriving here,†says Courtney Ross, chief economic development officer for the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. “And once those college graduates discover the region’s energy, dynamic economy, job opportunities and unique quality of living, 60 percent of them stay.â€

The region boasts a roster of top-ranked and highly regarded higher education institutions, including Vanderbilt University, Middle Tennessee State University, Belmont University, Lipscomb University, Fisk University and Tennessee State University, the state’s largest historically black university.

“Our academic units play a major role in developing students and preparing them for employment globally, but especially here in the Middle Tennessee region,†says Kelli Sharpe, assistant vice president for public relations and communications at Tennessee State. “TSU offers a broad range of programming to help our students explore their career options and specialized programming for personal and professional development.”

Annual events, such as corporate mock interviews, networking events, career fairs and resume seminars, professional development workshops and employer information sessions give students access to a full range of resources to develop them for the workforce after graduation, Sharpe says.

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Education for All

In October of 2017, the Lumina Foundation announced Nashville as one of 17 communities across the country designated as a Talent Hub. Nashville earned this new designation by meeting rigorous standards for creating environments that attract, retain, and cultivate talent, particularly among today’s students, many of whom are people of color, the first in their families to go to college, and from low-income households.

The state’s Drive to 55 initiative, which aims to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with college degrees or certifications to 55 percent by the year 2025, directly benefits employers in the region and opens new avenues for students to obtain in-demand skills. The initiative’s Tennessee Promise guarantees high school graduates free tuition at any of the state’s network of community and technical colleges, which provide career programs and customized training to meet the needs of employers. 

The Middle Tennessee Reconnect Community is a regional collaborative that serves adults who want to return to school or begin a post-secondary degree or credential in a 9-county region. 

“Returning to school is a tough decision for an adult,†says Laura Ward, director of the Middle Tennessee Reconnect Community. “Balancing school, home, work and other roadblocks that come up over the course of a year can make it difficult to prioritize post-secondary education. Reconnect Communities provide support and connection to resources. These resources can sometimes mean the difference between completing a degree or putting progress on hold.”

Ready for Work

Columbia State Community College in Maury County, for example, has implemented several degree and certificate programs to address the needs of the region’s robust and growing health-care industry.

“We have a top of the line nursing program, RN, ADN, radiology technology program, respiratory therapy program and a vet tech program all of which have a higher than national average pass rate. We have those programs that are leading directly out into the health care area,†says Janet Smith, Columbia State Community College president. “As a higher education institution, we’re all about developing the workforce at all different levels. Identifying the strong needs in our community and developing programs to meet those needs is always a direction of the college.â€

Smith says the college works directly with industry leaders to access the workforce needs in that area and can quickly tailor curricula or training programs to meet those needs.

“We recently introduced an anesthesia technology program which was identified as a need by the business community,†she says. “We also started an advanced integrated industrial technology mechatronics program several years ago and it keeps growing. We added a film crew technology program so students can get a certificate and work on film or television crews, which is a growing industry in Middle Tennessee. We can also do contract training and specially designed training tailored to the industry, or if we have several companies with the same training needs, we can quickly put together a non-credit workshop or seminar.â€

Ross says the region’s economic growth is closely tied to its ability to both attract and produce the top talent.

“The Nashville region is an incredible magnet for talent, young graduates and the types of workers that new, growing industries seek,” Ross says. “Considered a national hub for the Creative Class, the Nashville region’s educated workforce not only provides an abundant talent pool for companies, but also bolsters the region’s vibrancy, artistic and musical essence, and provides a powerful competitive edge in technology and innovation.â€

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