Education Underscores Nashville’s Meteoric Growth

Business in education is often seen as different from delivering education, and yet these relationships are becoming increasingly key to the economic stability of communities across the country. Students enter through K-12 in a semi-professional sandbox of higher education. After graduation, they pour into local markets, actively participating in the war of talents.

A study of nearly 15,000 universities in 1,500 regions in 78 countries found that universities are linked to future GDP growth per capita. The study found that a 10% increase in the number of universities per capita is due to a 0.4% and 1.6% increase in future GDP in the region. It also seems to have a positive effect from universities in geographically close and neighboring regions.

In light of the growing spread of innovation and entrepreneurship in K-12 and higher education, coupled with the growing expectation of all stakeholders that students should be more prepared for the “real world”, it would seem logical that educational institutions and the private sector collaborate and collaborate.

Because students prefer a culture of startup rather than booths, the supply and demand mechanism that fuels innovation and ideas will undoubtedly allow high schools and universities that offer entrepreneurship-focused courses to thrive and thrive.

This reporter is a resident of Nashville and has witnessed first-hand the steady and meteoric growth of the city and the region. I took the opportunity to explore the factors shaping local education that support the growth of the area that is happening right outside my window.

Nashville is second only to Austin in technology migration with waves of business. According to the Nashville Technology Council, in 2020 3,906 technology specialists moved to the metropolitan area. What’s more, Nashville has successfully attracted Amazon, Facebook and Oracle to the region over the past year, adding to the region’s economic expansion and talent war.

Matt Largen, president and CEO of the Williamson County Chamber of Commerce, testifies firsthand about the links between commerce and education in the Nashville market. “To win the talent war, you have to have excellent public schools that are a migratory magnet for families across the country. In addition, company executives view current K-12 students as future employees. They are interested in keeping the education ecosystem strong to attract the next generation of talent. Modern economic development is the recruitment and development of talent, and Williamson County Public Schools are the number one economic asset for the county. ”

To learn more about the role of education, I met with Will Kessler, head of school at Battle Ground Academy (BGA), L. Gregory Jones, Ph.D., president of Belmont University, and Daniel Dirmayer, Ph.D., chancellor of Vanderbilt University, to find out everyone’s relationship with the city and its businesses influences their respective education plans in the future.


Berger: What is the role and importance of partnering with the business community for your institution, and how do these connections strengthen connections in Nashville for students?

Kessler: I think the important resources you have are whether it’s an open partnership or individuals. We continued to work with AllianceBernstein, and one thing that makes me happy is to see how such companies really want to be part of the city. They want to be woven into the fabric of the community and give back.

AllianceBernstein organized the Zoom Symposium during the suffering of Covid-19. Asking questions like, “What do you see? What problems are you experiencing? ” It was great to be able to talk to partners from the business community and beyond education. They helped us discover some interesting responses from the community around BGA.

Berger: How can universities strengthen their ties with the business community and what are the benefits in the long run?

Jones: We need a much larger set of internal relationships rather than transactional ones between the university and various partners like businesses, NGOs, healthcare facilities, etc. contracts. This will change the dynamics of how we think about what it means to be a teacher, as well as how we interact with students. Belmont has the advantage that we opened the College of Music Business a few years ago and really worked to establish significant links with the industry.

One of the things we’re focusing on is anticipating what our Nashville partners need from our alumni. How can we help students, while they are on campus, begin working on real-world issues with our partners in a way that makes more continuous connections?

One of the long-standing problems, especially in professions such as law, has been dissatisfaction with the willingness of law graduates to practice law. We are one of three colleges in the last three years with 100 percent success. I would prefer to have a 100 percent level of advocacy with students who, as law firms say, are willing to practice law rather than academic prestige.

Therefore, we need to rethink how we treat partners, and not view them as just potential hiring units in a transactional relationship, but as people who help shape our program and vision.

Dirmaier: Our relationship with Nashville is very important to us in various dimensions. First, people want to live here. People at the very top of their sphere are moving to the city. When we recruit teachers, a significant advantage is the city of Nashville.

We are the same beneficiary of the resettlement of people from both coasts, the cities of the Midwest and Sunbelt, as everyone else. Not only individuals, but also institutions such as Oracle, Amazon, AllianceBernstein. There is an influx of talent because it is an attractive place to live.

The city’s focus on educating graduates is a strong position for all involved. But when I look to the future, I see so much uncertainty, even in the business world. Inflation is rising, and college enrollment continues to decline. It seems hard to predict what any part of life will look like in six months, let alone six years.

Berger: How important is the city of Nashville in helping your institution? How do symbiotic relationships, both institutional and individual, shape the future of education and community here in Tennessee?

Dirmaier: We want to be more connected to the city. I believe that historically we have not been as connected as we should have been. This is a priority for me.

For example, the city has strong entrepreneurial ecosystems in health management and throughout the music industry, but there are other areas that still need to be developed, such as the biomedical sector. We can play an extremely important role in this, because together with the medical center we are a biomedical center. But this is only one opportunity that we must actively use.

Wherever you look, there is potential. We need to partner with other Nashville colleges and universities. We don’t compete with each other in Nashville. We compete with the coast, the Midwest, Texas and Georgia.

Berger: Does this trick extend to the entire state of Tennessee?

Dirmaier: We want to think in terms of the state level. We have large assets in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Memphis and Oak Ridge. The main thing for us is to fully accept our role as a support for this community and the state. A magnet of innovation that is a great attraction and a source of talent. Then we can look for opportunities to become even better partners both with higher education institutions and in a broader sense with non-profit organizations, government agencies and businesses. We want to be an integral part of the community.

Berger: I would suggest that Belmont University sees the same opportunities for communication with Nashville?

Jones: Having a local relationship in which we can continue to grow and build in collaboration is key to Belmont. For example, our joint data project was initiated in part because we knew Amazon and Oracle would come. All the heads of the enterprises said: “We don’t have enough people who are learning to use data wisely. “ The more we modernize our academics by offering certificates and degree programs to position ourselves as a resource for the Nashville community, the better.

Note also that there are some paradoxes. Nashville is well known as a city of health, but our health outcomes are not very good. We are currently working with former Senator Bill Frist, who wrote in Forbes about poor health outcomes in Nashville, to develop a platform to help residents improve health outcomes in specific areas.

Likewise in education we are known as Southern Athens, but our educational outcomes in Davidson County (Nashville) are not where they should be. So how can we work together to improve the lives of people in Nashville and Central Tennessee? I’m worried about rural areas because if Nashville is thriving and the rural areas around it aren’t, it’s not good for Nashville’s long-term health. How do we improve rural communities in Central Tennessee and across the state so that everyone experiences the benefits of the region?

Berger: BGA is 133 years old and it is a staple in Central Tennessee. How does the relationship with Nashville feel in the BGA community?

Kessler: One of the important resources that other cities may not have is communication with the local community. They don’t have the gravitational pull companies we see here in Nashville. There are a lot of people I’ve talked to who say: “My job allows me to live anywhere and I choose here.” What a great thing for the community. What a wonderful thing for BGA students and families who hope for and support the Nashville economy. We all win.

Our focus in BGA is on building momentum. This is not to set a finish line for our students. As a K-12 institution, we are responsible for preparing students to study Belmont or Vanderbilt worldwide and beyond.


Nashville, a city traditionally known for its music, can be updated with an anthem. A collective voice that combines the growing needs of the private sector with the pillars of educational proponents who rule in one direction.

The war for talent must take place outside the famous honki-tonkas and inside lecture halls Southern Athens. Vanderbilt, Belmont and Battle Ground Academy look ready for the future that exists now.

The interviews were edited and compressed for clarity.

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