Community colleges across Tennessee are seeing an influx in students this year as many take advantage of the new Tennessee Promise program, which offers students in the state a free two-year college education.
The program was signed into law last year as part of Governor Bill Haslam's "Drive to 55" initiative, which hopes to increase the number of college graduates in the state. Haslam would like to see that number increase from 32% to 55% in the next 10 years. Participants in the program receive two years of education at no cost at any of the 13 community colleges in Tennessee, the 27 colleges of applied technology or any eligible institutions that offer an associate's degree program.
Chattanooga State Community College saw an increase from 700 students last year to 1,100 this fall. Cleveland State Community College saw an increase in their freshmen class this year by 16%.
"This growth comes after four years of decreasing enrollment, so it is clear that Tennessee Promise is making a big difference here at Cleveland State and in our communities," school President Bill Seymour said Monday.
Across Tennessee, over 18,000 students completed the requirements necessary to receive the scholarship. The program is available to all graduating high school senior in the state and covers all tuition and fees that federal grants and state scholarships and assistance programs do not. However, in order to be eligible, students must maintain a 2.0 grade point average, meet with mentors and complete at least eight hours of community service.
Haslam spoke to Tennessee Promise students attending Cleveland State last week, stressing the importance of graduating with a two-year degree or moving on to complete a degree program at a four-year university.
"The idea [of Tennessee Promise] isn't just about access, but success," Haslam told the students. " The object is to have you graduate."
Haslam went on to say that across the state, community colleges have gone above and beyond to make the transition to college life easier for students with "highly personalized programs" that help students graduate. Community colleges in Tennessee are evaluated on the number of students who graduate, with the amount of state funding received tied to the percentage of Tennessee Promise students who graduate with a degree, writes Kendi Anderson for The Times Free Press.
Official numbers will not be available until the 14th day of enrollment. However, as of last August's deadline, the program had 22,534 freshmen, much higher than the 13,000 projected to participate. The Tennessee Higher Education Commission reported around 17,000 incoming freshmen enrolled in community collegesin 2013, with 11,400 entering community college right out of high school.