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OPINION: TSU’s Chief Operating Officer on “Why College Matters”

A college degree is important.

Jason Evans is the Chief Operating Officer at Tennessee State University.

While a higher earning potential may be the most obvious benefit – and the reason many seek out a four-year degree in the first place – it’s not the only reason and may not even be the most impactful. Higher education also contributes to a longer life expectancy, better mental and physical health, and greater life satisfaction, according to the London Review of Education

These factors are part of why, through financial aid and scholarships like Tennessee HOPE lottery,  Tennessee State University and other public universities in our state want to increase access to degrees for students of all backgrounds. Lowering the barriers to college lowers the barriers to happier, healthier, longer, more prosperous lives for Tennesseans. 

Colleges also impact the communities they are a part of. Many of Tennessee’s public universities serve as a major employer in their communities – like TSU, which employs over 1,400 people. Colleges prepare a skilled workforce, which attracts employers to start or grow businesses. And colleges bring new people to the area, who live, work and spend money in the community.  

Beyond these individual and collective economic impacts, TSU and its partner universities also contribute to their communities in more direct ways. For instance, TSU, with a robust health professions training program – nursing, dental hygiene, physical and occupational therapy, public health – trains and graduates professionals who are serving in regions of our state where people have historically struggled to find quality care. And organizations like the Tennessee Small Business Development Centers network,  with an office on the TSU campus, provides no-cost consulting and resources to businesses. 

Higher education also tends to increase someone’s civic involvement and philanthropy. People with bachelor’s degrees are more likely to vote and volunteer and are more philanthropic than high school graduates. An informed, caring community is undoubtedly a better one – and something the Volunteer  State banks our reputation on. 

Colleges serve as research institutions that have measurable impacts on society. For example, at TSU, Dr. Brenda K. Batts is teaching the next generation of healthcare professionals. She’s also leading a project that seeks to address high mortality rates from asthma and COVID-19 in young African  Americans. By working with hip-hop musicians to create educational videos, she seeks to meet people where they are and give them the tools to improve their health. 

Additionally, TSU and its university partners are attracting record funding to do important research that impacts the state. Last year, TSU received more than $100 million in research funding, the second highest in a single year for a historically Black college or university.  

Students are involved in each of these cutting-edge research efforts. Across campus, they’re learning the skills and making the connections to launch careers, contributing to their communities, and pushing the world forward with new discoveries. 

Ultimately, a four-year TSU degree not only empowers individuals to achieve their full potential but also uplifts the communities they call home, making them more prosperous and appealing places to live.  Learn more about how you can share this message by visiting the Four the Future website. 

Jason T. Evans, Lieutenant General (ret.), is the Chief Operating Officer of Tennessee State University. The views expressed are his own.

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