Tennessee Readiness Policies


High School and Postsecondary Alignment

SREB’s Challenge to Lead 2020 goals call for states to align middle grades and high school policies with college-readiness standards, to recognize multiple paths to graduation and to provide students with diverse postsecondary options and resources. The following tabs summarize how Tennessee aligns its policies to promote smooth transitions for students through high school and beyond.  


College and Career Planning in K-12

Tennessee State Board of Education policy outlines the importance of beginning career exploration in middle school. The expectation is that eighth-grade students explore career opportunities and develop high school transition plans, as well as six-year plans for high school through postsecondary education. The Tennessee Higher Education Commission administers Tennessee’s federally-funded GEAR UP TN grant program, a seven-year discretionary grant program that aims to increase the number of low-income, first-generation students enrolling and succeeding in college across 15 Tennessee counties. GEAR UP TN provides direct services to a cohort of students, the Class of 2018, beginning in the 7th grade and continuing through the cohort’s first year of postsecondary education. GEAR UP TN also provides services to students in the senior class of participating high schools each grant year.

As part of this grant, the Tennessee Department of Education and THEC offer CollegeforTN.org, an online Web resource that provides information for Tennessee students and their families to help them plan, apply and pay for college.

The Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation provides an additional statewide Web portal, CollegePays to help students and their families plan for college.


High School Graduation Requirements

Course and Diploma Requirements for Current Seniors

Students must complete at least 22 units to earn a regular high school diploma.



Required Courses




English I

English II

English III

English IV 

AP, IB, or dual enrollment English courses or Advanced Composition



Algebra I

Algebra II


Fourth math

AP, IB, or dual enrollment math courses




Chemistry or Physics

One additional lab science

AP, IB, or dual enrollment science courses

Social Studies


U.S. History and Geography   

1/2 Credit Economics

1/2 Credit U.S.  Government 

World History and Geography

IB or dual enrollment social studies courses

Personal Finance



 Three years of Junior ROTC

Physical Education



Not specified

Fine Arts



May be waived by the local school district under certain circumstances, to expand elective focus

Foreign Language



May be waived by the local school district under certain circumstances, to expand elective focus




Math and science, Career and Technical Education, Fine Arts, Humanities, AP or IB courses

Total Credits 22    

Graduation with State Distinction

Students graduate with “state distinction” when they attain a “B” or better grade point average and accomplish one of the following:

  • Earn a nationally recognized industry certification
  • Participate in at least one of the Governor’s Schools or ALL State musical organization
  • Be selected as a National Merit Finalist or Semifinalist
  • Score a 31 or higher on the ACT Composite Score
  • Earn a three or higher on two Advanced Placement (AP) exams
  • Successfully complete the International Baccalaureate Programme
  • Complete at least 12 semester hours of postsecondary credit

Assessment Requirements

Tennessee administers at least nine regular End of Course (EOC) exams as part of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP): English I/II/III, Algebra I/II, Geometry, Biology, Chemistry, U.S. History & Geography. Exam results count for 25 percent a student’s final course grade. Passing the EOC exams is not required to graduate from high school. To obtain a degree, all students in grade 11 must take either the ACT or SAT. Beginning in 2017, all high school students will be given a U.S. Civics test. However, a passing grade is not required to receive a regular diploma.


Accelerated Learning Options in High School

Competency-Based Credit

Tennessee high school students may earn college-level credit by receiving satisfactory scores on College-Level Exam Program (CLEP) assessments. Postsecondary institutions determine whether and to what extent CLEP exams will count toward college credit.

Career and Technical Education

High school students may choose a career concentration in one of 16 career clusters to fulfill the three-credit “elective focus” graduation requirement. The state has revised CTE course standards and programs of study. Beginning in the 2017-2018 school year, CTE concentrators will be defined as students completing three or more courses within a CTE program of study.

The Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) partnered with high schools and Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCAT) to institute the TCAT Dual Enrollment Program. The program links CTE programs with TCAT instruction, creating more opportunities for high school students to earn postsecondary credit while in high school, better aligning TCAT curriculum with instruction, and identifying options for transitioning the programs fully to postsecondary. The programs of study currently include Diesel technology, Cosmetology/Barbering, and Mechatronics.

Dual Enrollment and Dual Credit

Dual enrollment opportunities allow high school students to earn postsecondary credit by enrolling in and successfully completing a postsecondary course either on the college or high school campus or virtually. The state, through the Dual Enrollment Grant Program, provides financial assistance to cover tuition costs for the courses. The grant pays the full cost of tuition and fees for a student’s first two dual enrollment courses at a community college ($500 per course). Additional, partial coverage is available and depends on institutions and total number of courses taken.

Local Dual Credit

There are two types of dual credit opportunities in Tennessee. A local dual credit course is a high school course (taught at the high school by high school faculty) that is aligned to a postsecondary course. Students can receive postsecondary credit by successfully completing the course and passing an assessment developed and/or recognized by the credit-granting postsecondary institution.

Statewide Dual Credit

The statewide dual credit courses are high school courses with accompanying challenge exams created by Tennessee secondary and postsecondary faculty work groups. The work groups reviewed existing high school course standards and the aligned postsecondary course to determine the additional learning objectives that students need to know to show mastery of the postsecondary material. Students who meet or exceed established exam cut scores earn postsecondary credit. Statewide dual credit courses must be approved by the Consortium for Cooperative Innovative Education before they can be offered as part of the state’s current pilot program.

Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate

House Bill 705, passed in 2013, provides that the state shall be responsible for all AP testing fees, regardless of the student’s score attained on the exam. This is to enhance the accessibility of AP courses for all students and to encourage those interested in career and technical training to pursue completion of rigorous course work. The bill also established the Tennessee Advance Placement Partnership (TAPP), a relationship between the state board of education and a national nonprofit education organization that provides consulting and assistance focused on growing the AP program in the state. 

The International Baccalaureate diploma Programme provides high schools students the opportunity to receive postsecondary credit while still in high school through course completion exams.

Early College High Schools

The early college high school model is designed to allow students to simultaneously earn a high school diploma and an associate degree or two years of credit toward a bachelor’s degree. Tennessee has two early college high schools in Memphis that are part of the national Early College High School Initiative. There are similar schools in Nashville, Knoxville, and Johnson City, with several other districts looking to build these types of programs.

Early High School Graduation

The Move on When Ready program, created with the passing of House Bill 837 in 2011, allows eligible public-school students in grade 11 or 12 to complete an early high school graduation program. Students receive unconditional entry into a public two-year institution or conditional entry into a public four-year institution. In order to qualify for the Move on When Ready early diploma, students must fulfill each of the following:

  • Earn 18 specified core credits
  • Have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.2
  • Cored at the On-Track or Mastered level on each EOC taken
  • Meet benchmark score of 21 or higher on the ACT (or SAT equivalent)
  • Achieve a passing score on a nationally recognized foreign language proficiency assessment
  • Complete two early postsecondary courses

Participating postsecondary institutions receive state funds, in the lesser amount of either tuition and fees or the state per pupil expenditure through the BEP, less a $200 records fee.

Early College Admission

Twelfth graders with a 3.2 GPA and minimum 22 ACT can pursue early admission. The freshman coursework taken at the participating college or university substitutes for courses that the student would have needed to graduate from high school.


Postsecondary Admission Requirements


There are two public postsecondary systems in the state – the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) and the University of Tennessee (UT). The TBR system includes six universities, 13 community colleges, and 27 colleges of applied technology. The UT system includes three universities and a health sciences center.

The state implemented the Tennessee Diploma Project (TDP) in 2009 as part of an initiative to raise academic standards and better align high school curricula with postsecondary expectations. To receive a regular high school diploma, all students must complete a 22-credit curriculum and, beginning with the graduating class of 2017, complete the ACT or SAT in their junior year of high school.

Effective January 2014, the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) agreed to grant freshmen admission to applicants who have completed the regular high school diploma curriculum. Freshmen applicants must provide a high school transcript showing graduation from high school and passing scores on the Proficiency Examination. They also must present Enhanced ACT, SAT scores. Universities are directed to use these scores in keeping with recommended best practices in admissions, advising and placement. Community Colleges have open enrollment policies, but may use ACT and SAT scores in the advising and placement process.

Tennessee Regular Diploma Curriculum



Course Requirements



Units in English and American literature



Algebra I, geometry, Algebra II and fourth unit

Students must be enrolled in a math course each school year



Biology, chemistry or physics, and a third laboratory course.

Social Science


One unit each of American and world history

Half units of economics and government

Foreign Language


Districts may waive this requirement to expand number of courses in elective focus

Fine Arts


Districts may waive this requirement to expand number of courses in elective focus

Physical Education & Wellness



Personal Finance


Three years of JROTC may be substituted for one-half unit of Personal Finance if the JROTC instructor attends the Personal Finance training.

Elective Focus


Options include math and science, career and technical education, Fine Arts, Humanities, and Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses.




Students who are admitted without the minimum high school unit requirements are required to remove deficiencies in a “timely manner.” Students must have high school diplomas or pass the GED test with scores that meet institutional requirements. Individual institutions determine admission criteria, including required GPAs and ACT or SAT scores.

The University of Tennessee admission requirements also incorporate the core high school graduation requirements into their curriculum requirement. Students must submit high school transcripts and either the ACT or SAT for consideration of admission to the University of Tennessee.

TBR policy directs universities to use test scores for advisement and as one metric in placement decisions. Community colleges have open-enrollment policies, but these institutions may use ACT/SAT scores for advisement and placement purposes. 


Postsecondary Placement Policies


Board of Regents

System policy has approved placement cut scores for ACT and SAT subtests. Students scoring at or above the cut score are exempt from Learning Support (i.e., developmental education).

ACT/SAT Placement Cut Scores

Readiness Area












Institutions require students who score below the cutoff in writing, reading, and/or math to enroll in co-requisite learning support courses. Also, institutions must address in their Learning Support Framework how to support students who score 12 or below on any ACT subtest.

The Board of Regents recommends that each regional institution partner with the local school districts in its region to deliver learning support to at-risk students identified through placement assessments administered prior to senior year.

Institutions are directed to form partnerships with their local high school district to develop early intervention systems and provide learning support to high school students considered not college ready prior to their senior year in high school.

Stand-alone learning support may be provided only to support non-degree seeking students whose program does not require college-level math, English or reading. An institution must have strategies to address learning support for students with ACT subject scores (or equivalent scores on other assessments such as the SAT, PSAT, etc.) of 12 or below.

University of Tennessee System

The system’s three undergraduate institutions set minimum ACT and SAT cut scores for entrance into specific English and math courses. If students’ scores are high enough, or they have completed an appropriate course with a C or better, or made a passing score on an AP or CLEP exam, or pass the approved online math placement exam with an 80 percent or higher, they qualify for the first math course required for their major. If not, they are directed to take a pre-requisite course.

All three institutions require students with low ACT English or SAT critical reading sub-scores to take an additional course or participate in a supplemental writing lab.

UT-Martin requires students who score below 21 on the ACT English and/or ACT Math subtests to enroll in the lowest applicable college-level courses.


State Financial Aid for Undergraduates

The state funds several scholarships and grants through the Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarship Program.

The Tennessee HOPE scholarship provides merit-based aid to recent high school graduates who attended approved Tennessee public or independent institutions. Students must have a score of 21 on the ACT (or 1060 SAT) or a 3.0 weighted high school grade-point average. Students must maintain a 2.75 college GPA to renew the HOPE scholarship for the first 48 credit-hours attempted and a 3.0 GPA to renew after 72 credit-hours attempted. The maximum annual award is $3,500 for freshmen and sophomores. The annual maximum award for juniors and seniors is $4,500.

HOPE scholars may qualify for supplemental awards, including the General Assembly Merit Scholarship and the need-based ASPIRE Award.

The General Assembly Merit Scholarship provides up to $1,500 per year if HOPE Scholars score at least 29 on the ACT Composite (or 1350 SAT) and earn a weighted high school GPA of 3.75.

The ASPIRE Award provides up to $1,500 per year if the adjusted gross income of HOPE Scholars, their parents, or spouses (if applicable) is less than $36,000, as measured by the federal IRS formula.

The HOPE Access Grant provides financial aid to students who earn a 2.75 weighted high school GPA, score at least an 18 on the ACT (or 940 on the SAT) and have an annual household income of $36,000 or less. While the HOPE Access Grant expires after one academic year, students can receive the HOPE scholarship if they maintain a 2.75 GPA for their first two semesters of college. The maximum award for the non-renewable grant is $2,500.

The Wilder-Naifeh Technical Skills Grant, also part of TELS Program, is available to Tennessee residents who attend one the state’s 27 colleges of applied technology.

The state also manages two grant programs outside of the TELS framework. Tennessee graduates who qualify for the Federal Pell Grant and have an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) under $2,100 can receive additional aid through the Tennessee Student Assistance Award. Funding is limited and awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The Tennessee Promise Scholarship is a last-dollar award, meaning the program covers the remaining portion of tuition and fees after deducting proceeds from for federal and state aid sources. Recipients may use the award to pursue certificates, technical diplomas, and associate degrees.


Postsecondary Feedback to High Schools

The Tennessee Higher Education Commission, in collaboration with ACT Inc., publishes annual Freshman Feedback Success reports. The reports provide information on recent high school graduates enrolled in college, subdivided by district, school, college, and postsecondary system. These reports, which are limited to outcomes from Tennessee’s ACT-tested public and private high school graduates, track college enrollment, first-year college GPA, average ACT courses, and median course loads.

The commission publishes an annual higher education fact book, which provides detailed information about higher education enrollment and persistence in the state.