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Tennessee is joining a 17-state consortium focusing on upping college graduation rates.

The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization, Complete College America, will oversee the effort, which has major financial backers, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Lumina Foundation for Education.

"Tennessee has launched aggressive efforts to improve degree completion rates out of the recognition that our economy hinges on our ability to develop a more skilled work force," Gov. Phil Bredesen said. "Every state knows what's at stake. This alliance will play an important role in ensuring a quality education is available to future generations. I'm pleased Tennessee has the opportunity to become even more involved in this effort by joining this coalition to fight this growing problem."

Officials with Complete College America have had their hands in the Tennessee bill passed in a education special session that mandates dramatic higher education reforms aimed at getting more students out of college.

Stan Jones, president of Complete College America, said the organization sees Tennessee as a leader in the national initiative and plans to help state and university officials implement the new higher education agenda.

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