Tennessee Promise Boasts Over 50,000 Signups

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The Tennessee Promise program is simple. Every student who lives in Tennessee and applies for federal financial aid can attend two years of community college or a college of applied technology absolutely free of charge.

But the necessity of completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) means that a small percentage will not be eligible for free community college tuition – primarily undocumented students. Emily Siner of Nashville Public Radio reports that there are around 6,000 high school students in Tennessee who are undocumented, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

“Within undocumented communities and circles, there was a hope that existed that they would be incorporated, they would be folded in with the Tennessee Promise,” says Josh Henderson, an English language teacher at Antioch High School.

Some high school students believed that the governor, in his speech about Tennessee Promise, meant what he actually said in February, which was:

“To every student, from every kindergartner to every high school senior, we will promise that he or she can attend two years of community college or college of applied technology absolutely free.” 

Although a spokesperson for the governor was quick to clarify by stating that the governor was referring only to eligible students, the damage had already been done. Henderson said that he saw students without documentation weeping after they discovered they were not qualified.

If these students still wanted to go to community college, they would have to pay the out-of-state tuition that averages about $14,000 a year for tuition and fees.

In Nashville, four-year colleges Lipscomb and Trevecca, both offer scholarships to undocumented graduates. Western Kentucky gives in-state tuition rates to students residing in certain Tennessee counties, whatever their legal status.

Governor Haslam expected 20,000 students to apply for the Tennessee Promise scholarships, but there were about 45,000 applications. The large influx was probably precipitated by some districts encouraging all seniors to apply for the program, according to Dave Boucher, writing for the Tennessean. The idea was that it would be a plus to start the process and applying allowed seniors access to the mentors who are available to all students who apply.

Other requirements for the scholarship are attending every meeting required by the student’s mentor. Students’ paperwork must be completed and submitted and eight hours of community service per term must be performed, along with maintaining at least a 2.0 GPA. Tennessee has more than $300 million dedicated to the program. Assurance has been given from all 13 community college presidents that there will be space for Tennessee Promise students at their institutions.

Tennessee Promise is the first scholarship program of its kind in the US. The program is funded by lottery proceeds, writes Mealand Ragland-Hudgins of the Daily News Journal.

Motlow College is having an open house for potential faculty members, as the influx of students from the program necessitates hiring additional faculty. Cheryl Hyland, director of Motlow’s campus in Smyrna, said:

“There’s always a high need in the core subject areas, math, science, English, history, the classes students have to have in order to earn a degree.”

The Daily News Journal has updated the number of applicants for the scholarships to 56,000. The program is a “last dollar” scholarship, meaning that it kicks in after all the other scholarship monies that a student receives have been tallied.

“While removing the financial burden is key, a critical component of Tennessee Promise is the individual guidance each participant will receive from a mentor who will assist the student as he or she navigates the college admissions process,” state officials said.

The scholarship portion of Tennessee Promise will be administered by the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC), and the mentoring and community service aspects will be monitored by local, non-profit partnering organizations.