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The Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research is partnering with Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to research the effectiveness of initiatives developed under the state’s “Drive to 55” campaign.

The partnership, made possible with a $400,000 grant, will establish the Tennessee Postsecondary Evaluation and Analysis Research Lab, or TN-PEARL. TN-PEARL will research several questions connected to the state’s “Drive to 55” campaign, including how state, local, and institutional policies can raise postsecondary educational attainment and whether recent policies are effectively increasing postsecondary attainment and returns. The research will begin this fall.

The “Drive to 55” campaign was created in 2013 as an effort to have 55 percent of working-age Tennesseans hold a postsecondary credential by 2025. The three largest initiatives created under the campaign are Tennessee Promise, Tennessee Reconnect, and the Tennessee Labor Education Alignment Program, or Tennessee LEAP.

Celeste Carruthers

“‘Drive to 55’ is about much more than the number 55. It motivated a lot of change in the way that people learn about college and move through college,” said Celeste Carruthers, an associate professor with the Boyd Center and Department of Economics in UT’s Haslam College of Business. “The rest of the country is looking at all of this experimentation in Tennessee and wondering if it’s working. Our aim is to track the progress of postsecondary success in the state and identify whether particular efforts are accomplishing what they set out to do.”

Carolyn Heinrich

Carolyn Heinrich, a professor of public policy, education, and economics at Vanderbilt, noted that there will be many insights generated from the analysis of how “Drive to 55” policies and programs are working.

“We want to create an analytical framework that will help us to understand both their individual and collective impacts,” she said. “This is important to helping the state understand how it can best invest our public resources going forward, and how we can maximize the number of people helped to complete education, attain valued credentials, and realize the returns to these investments in the labor market.”

Researchers said TN-PEARL will also inform national research, policy agendas, and communities about the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of initiatives that seek to convert “no college” or “some college” individuals into degree-holding workers.

The Boyd Center is housed within UT’s Haslam College of Business.


Lydia McCoy (865-974-6086,

Tyra Haag (865-974-5460,

Joan Brasher (615-322-6397,