Improved access to higher education will help residents unlock the benefits of our city’s booming economy.

As Nashville has become one of America’s fastest-growing cities, the cost of living has accelerated accordingly. Our city’s changing economy is creating abundant employment opportunities, including many new highly paid positions, which often require higher levels of education. 

Staying in school will help young Nashvillians access careers whose benefits extend far beyond simply easing cost-of-living pressures. In addition to providing for a comfortable lifestyle, those careers will be challenging, rewarding and more likely future-proof. Higher levels of education, especially for disadvantaged students, can also deliver positive outcomes for families and communities, leading to lower levels of poverty and crime.  

Tennessee’s high school graduation rate continues to rise and for the 2018-19 school year was 89.7% – the highest rate in our state’s history and more than half a percent higher than the previous year. Not only must we remain committed to further increasing the number of high school graduates, we also need to encourage more students to attend college, or trade and vocational schools.      

The life-changing power of higher education has often been out of reach for so many young people. That’s why the First Horizon Foundation is funding programs that create a bridge to making college more accessible.  

Success Generation

The Martha O’Bryan Center’s Success Generation program is offered to first-generation college students at three Nashville high schools, Hunters Lane, Stratford and Maplewood. Students receive enrollment support, helping them understand how college works, what to expect and how to overcome obstacles. The mentoring process provides emotional as well as academic support, and its impact has been truly remarkable.   

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Since the program began in 2016, the number of Success Generation students who were accepted into college and graduated has increased by an amazing 925%, from 12 to 123 students. Participants have also received $53.4 million in grants and scholarships.  

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Nashville Goes to College

Another initiative supporting local students’ post-secondary success is the Nashville Public Education Foundation’s Nashville Goes to College. Launched last year with a grant from First Horizon Foundation, this website resource is being used by high school teachers and counselors to demystify the college application process and provide students with the practical tools they need to apply for schools and scholarships. Perhaps even more importantly, the site is open to anyone and offers inspiration, reassurance and case-study videos to help give first-generation college students the necessary self-belief to view higher education as a real possibility.    

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Ensuring that our young people reach their academic and employment potential not only changes their lives; it will equip Nashville with the smart workforce we need to make the most of economic opportunities, now and into the future. 

Carol Yochem is the Middle Tennessee region president of First Horizon Bank. 

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