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PARIS, Tenn. — University of Tennessee President Dr. John W. Shumaker says the state-s public colleges and universities must commit to closing the achievement gap for students of all races and nationalities “sooner rather than later.”

Speaking at the 28th annual Legislative Retreat and Training Conference at Paris Landing State Park, Shumaker outlined a four-part promise to increase the percentages of Tennesseans who receive at least a bachelor-s degree.

“Public universities owe that to the citizens of the state so they can fulfill their highest potential,” he said.

To underscore the point, Shumaker introduced two Shelby County students – De Marquis Holmon, a student at Hickory Ridge Middle School, and Allison Jones, a student at Alton Elementary School.

With hundreds of students as well as members of the legislature in the audience, he outlined four actions needed to improve educational achievement for all students and ensure that students like Holmon and Jones realize their full potential.

The first three steps involve creating a seamless P-16 education system that allows students access to higher education at the appropriate level, ensuring they make satisfactory progress by providing better student services, and ensuring that financial need is not an impediment.

“Last but certainly not least, we must foster a climate of encouragement, support and respect at all of our institutions,” Shumaker said.

Recruiting and retention of African American students and other minorities are two of the performance measures included in UT-s “2010 Scorecard.”