For the first time in state history, 10 public universities in Tennessee, including Middle Tennessee State University, are coming together to launch a campaign aimed to increase public awareness of the value of a four-year university degree from a public state institution.
The “Four the Future” campaign is a multiyear, coordinated effort that will engage community and business leaders, prospective students, and Tennesseans in all 95 counties around the value of higher education from a public university.
“A bachelor’s degree increases the life trajectory of not only those who earn them, but also their families,” MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee said. “That is why we are proud to be part of this unprecedented message, delivered loud and clear by our state’s leading public universities, of the great value, tremendous worth and tangible benefits of a four-year college degree.”
The Four the Future campaign will include a mix of advertising, digital media, earned media and community meetings throughout the state to raise awareness about the positive impact of a four-year degree from a public college in Tennessee, both for individuals and for Tennessee communities. You can read more about the campaign on its website, www.mtsu.edu/fourthefuture, and view a 30-second TV ad below:
Among the key messages to Tennesseans is that a four-year degree at a public university in Tennessee isn’t just good for prospective students. It’s good for all Tennesseans:
• Workforce development: Public universities educate students in areas of need in Tennessee, including nurses, doctors, engineers, educators and other professionals. (Association of Public and Land Grant Universities)
• Training: More than 70% of Tennessee business leaders agree there is an insufficient supply of appropriately trained workers. (Boyd Center)
• Economic growth: If the U.S. had increased its bachelor’s degree attainment during the 2010s by just 1 percentage point, this would have added $130.5 billion to the nation’s economic growth. (American Action Forum)
• Investing in all of us: People with a bachelor’s degree contribute $381,000 more in taxes than they use in government services and programs. (Association of Public and Land Grant Universities)
“Our goal at MTSU is not only to prepare our students for their first job, but for careers that might not yet exist,” McPhee said. “We produce ready-to-work graduates who also can reflect, analyze, compare, and understand much more and, in doing so, become engaged citizens of our state. We offer unique academic programs that align well with our state’s workforce needs.”
Among the key messages to prospective students is that graduates of four-year public universities in Tennessee typically earn higher salaries and enjoy better health outcomes:
• Wealthier: On an annual basis, median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders are $36,000 or 84% higher than those whose highest degree is a high school diploma. (APLU) A bachelor’s degree recipient is expected to earn $1.4 million more than a high school graduate over their career. (Boyd Center)
• Healthier: Public college graduates enjoy better-paying jobs, with fewer safety hazards, increased ability to accrue material resources and higher social status. They are more likely to exercise and less likely to report heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety and depression. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
• Connected: More than any other postsecondary path, college delivers connections. Connections to career paths, but also connections to each other. It’s about the network you build and the people you meet, not just the certificate you earn. Public universities bring people together through campus life, clubs, intramurals, sporting events, volunteer opportunities and many other connection points.
• Economic mobility: Excepting UT Southern, which joined the UT System two years ago, all the other nine four-year public universities in Tennessee rank among the top two tiers of the five-tier economy mobility scale for graduates. (Third Way)
• Financial aid: Tennessee offers a statewide, free college tuition program, through Tennessee HOPE. Nearly half of Tennessee public university students graduate without debt.
In addition to MTSU, participating schools include:
- Austin Peay State University (Clarksville)
- East Tennessee State University (Johnson City)
- Tennessee State University (Nashville)
- Tennessee Technological University (Cookeville)
- University of Tennessee, Chattanooga
- University of Tennessee Health Science Center (Memphis)
- University of Tennessee, Knoxville
- University of Tennessee, Martin
- University of Tennessee, Southern (Pulaski)
McPhee said it was appropriate for MTSU to help lead this awareness campaign, since “in so many ways, MTSU is Tennessee’s university, providing life-changing opportunities to a student body that best reflects the diversity of our state’s population.”
“We are proud to be Greater Nashville’s No. 1 choice for undergraduates, as well a leading choice for adult learners, military-connected students and first-generation college students. More than 70% of our graduates remain in Tennessee, building our state’s economy and communities,” he said.
Four the Future launches amid declining college enrollment throughout the country; but Tennessee’s college-going rate (54.3%) for the class of ’22 improved by 1.5 percentage points over the previous year, according to Tennessee Higher Education Commission data released in June. Fall 2023 enrollment at Tennessee’s public universities increased 1.8%, THEC announced in September. THEC has set a goal to increase the college-going rate for the high school class of 2023 to at least 60%.
About Four the Future
Four the Future is a consortium of 10 Tennessee public colleges and universities. The group of schools came together in 2023 to demonstrate the value of a four-year degree throughout the state of Tennessee. Led by the presidents of each of the participating schools, the group includes representation from the leadership at Austin Peay State University (Clarksville); East Tennessee State University (Johnson City); Middle Tennessee State University (Murfreesboro); Tennessee State University (Nashville); Tennessee Technological University (Cookeville); University of Tennessee, Chattanooga; University of Tennessee Health Science Center (Memphis); University of Tennessee, Knoxville; University of Tennessee, Martin; and University of Tennessee, Southern (Pulaski). For more information, visit FourTheFutureTN.com.
— Andrew Oppmann (Andrew.Oppmann@mtsu.edu)