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With its proximity to UTC, one of the largest student populations among Tennessee community colleges and plans for dorms on campus, Chattanooga State Community College likely will be a centerpiece of Gov. Phil Bredesen's new plan for the two-year college system.

Still, Chattanooga State administrators -- already talking about their hopes of opening some bachelor's degree programs in coming years -- need to keep their feet on the ground and focus on improving their graduation rate, currently one of the lowest in the Tennessee Board of Regents system, a senior adviser to the governor said.

"The governor has politely said 'I don't think four-year degrees at community colleges is the right approach,'" Will Pinkston said. "One of the things we have to do in higher education is not try to be everything to everyone. Perform your role and perform it well, and (community colleges) aren't doing that."

In 2008, Chattanooga State's six-year graduation rate was 23.6 percent, a figure that has improvemed little in the past four years.

Cleveland State Community College had a graduation rate of 32.7 percent, and the state community college average graduation rate in 2008 was 31 percent, according to the Tennessee Board of Regents.

The state's overall community college graduation rate has improved nearly 6 percent in the last four years, documents show.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has a six-year graduation rate of 42.2 percent and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville graduates 64.1 percent of its students, documents show.

Chattanooga State President Jim Catanzaro said the college's graduation rate doesn't fare as poorly when compared with other metropolitan community colleges with a diverse mix of students, such as Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis and Nashville State Technical Community College. In 2008, Southwest had a graduation rate of 18.3 percent and Nashville State had a graduation rate of 23.5 percent.

"Our graduation rates are strong," Dr. Catanzaro said. "Why then are the numbers not as high? We have rural students, Appalachian students. We have students that are inner-city students. It is a much more diverse population" than other two-year schools.

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