Focus On College and University Success (FOCUS) Act

The Focus on College and University Success (FOCUS) Act is the next step in making sure Tennessee reaches its goal of 55 percent of adult Tennesseans having a postsecondary degree or credential by 2025. Now that postsecondary education leaders, lawmakers, businesses, and the K-12 education system are all working toward this ambitious educational attainment goal and programs like Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect are changing the landscape in terms of who attends postsecondary and which institutions they attend, we must ensure that the system is aligned for success. The FOCUS Act will better align our postsecondary education system toward meeting the Drive to 55 by providing a sharpened focus on the governance of our community colleges and colleges of applied technology (TCATs), while granting our four-year state universities additional autonomy as we seek to empower each institution to be successful in this new environment.

Why is the FOCUS Act needed?

Currently, the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) oversees 46 institutions – six public four-year state universities, 13 community colleges and 27 TCATs. The University of Tennessee (UT) system oversees three public four-year universities as well as three institutes and a health science center. The Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) is the coordinating body for the two governing entities.

New Drive to 55 programs such as Tennessee Promise are causing a shift in the higher education landscape that raises questions as to whether the existing higher education structure (established in 1972) is organized appropriately for today’s needs.

This fall, Tennessee saw a 10 percent increase in overall first-time freshman enrollment in our public higher education institutions and a nearly 25 percent increase in first-time freshman enrollment at community colleges.

With 46 institutions, it is difficult for TBR to meet all of the diverse challenges of the system. Community colleges arguably need greater focus at a system level in the Drive to 55 while TBR’s four-year state universities could benefit from greater autonomy.

At present, some of THEC’s core functions lack the enforceability needed to create the efficiency and effectiveness needed across public postsecondary education in Tennessee.

What are the key components of the FOCUS Act?

  • A sharpened focus by TBR on the state’s 13 community colleges and 27 technical colleges;
  • Creation of local boards for the state’s six public universities: Austin Peay State University, East Tennessee State University, Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee State University, Tennessee Technological University, and the University of Memphis;
  • An enhanced role of THEC to provide greater coordination across the state to include capital project management, institutional mission approval, and higher education finance; and
  • Creation of a transition task force consisting of higher education, business and community leaders from around the state that will serve as the administrative and advisory body throughout the transition.