Haslam’s Tennessee Promise Program Registers 23,000 Students

Already, 22,800 Tennessee students have registered for Gov. Bill Haslam’s Tennessee Promise program, which provides a free 2-year degree to the state’s students.

The Associated Press reports that the Tennessee Promise program allows high school graduates to attend two-year community colleges or colleges of applied technology for free and is a building block in the “Drive to 55.” The state’s Drive to 55 initiative looks to increase the number of state residents who have college degrees or certificates up to 55% by the year 2025 with the goal of improving overall job qualifications and attracting employers to Tennessee.

The funding comes from the Tennessee Education Lottery and fills in the gap for students who have other types of financial aid and picks up the whole tab for students who do not. An additional part of the program is that students work with a mentor and complete eight hours of community service each year.

“It’s a clear statement to families that education beyond high school is a priority in Tennessee, and we’re excited that so many have signed up to take advantage of this new opportunity,” Haslam’s said.

Gov. Haslam has declared this week the year’s official College Application Week, during which teachers share their own college experiences and promote www.CollegeforTN.org, which helps students with every step of the application process.  Also being promoted is Tennessee Promise, says Adam Tamburin of The Tennessean.

Tennessee Promise has caused four-year schools to sweeten their scholarship programs, according to Blake Farmer of WPLN News.  The schools are also offering automatic financial aid for those who transfer from community college to finish a bachelors degree. University of Tennessee chancellor Joe DiPietro sees an upside to all of this.

“I would love to have the problem in three or four or five years that we have so many people coming to one of the campuses to do an upper division finish-off of their curriculum that we’re having to say we can’t take them, or we have to revise the admissions process,” DiPietro says. “I mean, that’d be a good problem to have.”

The Daily News Journal‘s editorial board wrote an opinion concerning the Tennessee Promise program saying that the emphasis for colleges and universities is not just on getting students to enroll, but getting them through to graduation in a timely manner.  Funding formulas are changing from number of enrollments to showing that students are graduating, making this a prime metric.

Middle Tennessee State University knows that  its financial aid programs will have to make up for the difference in HOPE scholarship amounts that will be available in the first two years of enrollments.  HOPE scholarships have been reduced so adequate funds are available for the Tennessee Promise.

MTSU has announced Finish Line scholarships as an incentive to students for finishing their undergraduate degrees in four years along with 50 more advisers to assist students in their journeys through college in, hopefully, four years.

The editors say they admire MTSU’s efforts, but add that no one knows how Tennessee Promise is going to impact four-year schools like MTSU.  Yes, the colleges will, theoretically, be gaining students who are better prepared for college work, but the question remains: why haven’t four-year institutions been equal partners in this decision?

The non-profit tnAchieves is working with Hawkins County as Tennessee Promise is implemented, writes Jeff Bobo of the TimesNews. The program assigns a mentor to every every applicant to the program.

“The process is new for the students, it’s new for their families, so we give them someone who helps them navigate this college going process — admission paperwork, financial aid paperwork, all of those things,” Thomas said during the Sept. 4 BOE meeting. “The second thing our mentors do is serve as a taskmaster — remind them of all those college deadlines that arise, financial aid deadlines, and admission deadlines.”