Education: Post-Secondary

Submitted by PeopleFirst Partnership and Seeding Success

Improving cradle to career education outcomes is one of the most important strategies for the overall well-being of our community and our region’s economic vitality.  This is why local leaders have supported a backbone organization, the PeopleFirst Partnership, to support game changing strategies and collaborative efforts to improve a core set of outcomes around four goals:

  • Goal A: All children enter school ready to learn
  • Goal B: All students graduate high school college and career ready
  • Goal C: Adults earn degrees and certifications that prepare them for local careers
  • Goal D: Talent is attracted to and retained in Shelby County.

The PeopleFirst Partnership, consists of two aligned efforts, PeopleFirst and Seeding Success, which lead, facilitate, and measure our community’s cradle to career agenda.

PeopleFirst enlists the participation of top business, government, education and civic leaders to advance this “cradle to career” agenda throughout the community. Through a portfolio of high-impact initiatives anchored by four goals, clearly identified strategies and key performance metrics and benchmarks, the aim is to accelerate what’s working and address what’s not.

Seeding Success is an integral part of the PeopleFirst Partnership. As a sustaining partnership of the national StriveTogether network, Seeding Success works to improve education outcomes through data-driven, collaborative action among community agencies and non-profits. Seeding Success builds the capacity of its partners to use data effectively for continuous improvement of programming. By convening Collaborative Action Networks of local organizations, Seeding Success provides opportunities for collaboration, shared data reports and facilitation to align the work of the partners around our common outcome goals and benchmarks.

The PeopleFirst Partnership/Seeding Success 2015 Annual Report can be found at the bottom of this page in the Additional Resources section. You will find results for all four of the goals listed above, including those related to post-secondary education. 

Focus on Adults Earning Degrees and Certification to Prepare them for Local Careers

According to recent findings, 55 percent of jobs in the state of Tennessee will require a post-secondary credential by the end of this decade. In response, Governor Haslam initiated the “Drive to 55” with the goal that 55 percent of Tennessee’s adults will have a post-secondary credential by 2025. PeopleFirst adopted the goal of 55 percent for Shelby County. With only 36.3 percent of the adults in our community with post-secondary credentials, we must increase additional credentials per year by roughly two percent points for the next 10 years.

Promising Practice - Focus on College Completion

Focusing on post-secondary completion is essential to reaching Goal C. To encourage that focus, as a part of the Complete College Tennessee Act, Tennessee adopted an outcomes based funding formula for public post-secondary institutions. In response, our local institutions have implemented strategies to move students toward completion such as
supporting first generation college students with mentors and cohort support groups; increasing the use of “prior learning experiences” for credit for non-traditional students and targeting and recruiting partial completers who often lack less than a year to complete their degrees.


Over the past several years, the University of Memphis, Southwest Community College, and the Tennessee College of Applied Technology Memphis have worked to improve their completion rates and increase the number of students who receive a degree or certificate. The Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology have some of the highest completion rates in the country and that is true of TCAT Memphis.

Focus on Talent Being Attracted to and Retained in Shelby County

Attracting and retaining top talent is crucial to our community’s future. Young professionals with four-year degrees are the most recruited by businesses across the country and it’s at the ages of 24-35 that this demographic is most mobile. According to Census 5-year estimates, 29.5 percent of 25-34 year olds in Shelby County have a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2013. This is only 4.2 percent of the county’s total population and places us below the national average and our regional competitors.

Promising Practice

Increasing this demographic doesn't happen by accident. To recruit and retain our share of young professionals, we need to understand what attracts them to our community and create strategies to accomplish this goal. In 2014, PeopleFirst commissioned a validated, random sample survey to understand young professionals' perceptions of the quality of life in Memphis and Shelby County, what they consider strengths and weaknesses, and how those factors affect their decisions to stay in our community and recommend it to others. We learned that young professionals are hopeful about the future of Shelby County.


  • Nearly six in ten young professionals grade overall quality of life in Memphis and Shelby County as "excellent" or "good". 
  • Almost one in five (18.8 percent) were "very likely" to recommend living here to their friends and colleagues.
  • Young Professionals identify major strengths as family and friends, downtown entertainment district, overall cost of living, access to green spaces, and volunteer opportunities.
  • Major weaknesses are the quality of K-12 schools, access to safe and low crime neighborhoods, and availability of good paying jobs.
  • Newcomers are more positive about the community than native Shelby Countians.
  • Young Professionals are more hopeful about the future of the city than all other demographics.

All organizations, institutions, and systems, working with young children and students are encouraged to get involved in the partnership, and help us achieve our goals by moving the needle on these important outcomes. Contact Seeding Success at or the PeopleFirst Partnership at

Click the following to get more information on Education: Early Childhood and Education:K-12.

Additional Resources

PeopleFirst Partnership/Seeding Success 2015 Shelby County Annual Report

PeopleFirst Partnership/Seeding Success 2016 Legislative Priorities

PeopleFirst Partnership

Seeding Success