Tennessee Promise Provides New Opportunities For Higher Education

Tennessee Promise is the first program of its kind in the state. It provides the opportunity for two years of tuition free college education for high school graduates at qualified state institutions of higher learning.

Most people think back on their lives when they grow older and think, “What could I have done differently?” Asked that girl out at the coffeeshop, played a different sport in school? In many cases, pursuing higher education is one of those things. For example, my parents both went to college for two years, got lazy, and dropped out. Now my mother and father, at ages 61 and 62, respectively, tell me every day how much they wished they had committed themselves to their education, and how much they believe it would have benefited them for the rest of their lives. Maybe if there had been a program like the Tennessee Promise for them in the 1970s, they would have.

Tennessee Promise is a program that provides opportunity to attend college to every single high school student in the state. With this new program, all a student has to do is graduate from high school, and they have two years of free college waiting on them, if they choose to apply for the program. For many students, this is a life-changing opportunity they never thought they would have. Walt Campbell, a current Tennessee Promise student at Nashville State Community College in Nashville, is grateful for the chance to better himself.

“I honestly never thought I would go to college, mainly because I wasn’t really interested in it,” said Campbell. “But when I saw I could go for two years for free, I thought ‘Why not give it a shot?’ and now I love it. I feel like it is really going to help me down the road when I try to get a real job.”

According to the Tennessee Promise website, the program is considered a “last-dollar” scholarship, meaning it pays for all expenses not covered by Pell grants, the HOPE scholarship, or student assistance funds provided by the state.

Students must apply to the program before a fall semester deadline, and must fulfill a checklist of tasks to remain eligible for the program, including completing at least eight hours of community service per college semester attended. They are provided a personal mentor for the duration of their time in the program, a stipulation that is meant to ensure satisfactory progression through their time in college and help them succeed once they graduate from their respective institution.

The program has resulted in increased first-time freshman enrollment at community colleges across the state, but has also resulted in decreased enrollment at the University of Tennessee campuses in Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Martin.

The program has caused a rather large jump in enrollment at Tennessee community colleges and colleges of applied technology, as expected. As seen in the graphic above from tennessee.gov, Motlow State Community College in Smyrna saw the largest increase in first-time freshman enrollment, at nearly 75 percent.

The program seems to be a fantastic tool for students in the state to further their academic pursuits, but the jury is still out. In just a couple of years, when graduation rates are available for the first class of Tennessee Promise students, we will truly see how successful the program has been.