Starting with the class of 2015, all high school graduates in the state of Tennessee will be eligible for two years of free tuition at a two-year community college or technical school.
Tennessee Promise, one of the components in the Drive to 55 Alliance, is a scholarship and mentoring program aimed at giving Tennessee graduates a better chance of earning higher education degrees. The scholarship can be used at any of the state’s 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology or any other institution offering qualified associate’s degree programs.
There have been concerns across the state, including at Union University, about the lasting affects of such a program on four-year private institutions like Union.
When Dub Oliver, university president, first heard about Tennessee Promise, he was concerned. Now, he said he does not believe it is likely to have a negative effect on Union.
“Tennessee Promise is going to do nothing but benefit schools like Union University,” said Mike Krause, executive director for Drive to 55 and Tennessee Promise.
Similar programs have not been shown to harm four year institutions, and the many requirements of Tennessee Promise–including community service, mentoring and early deadlines–will make it less likely to appeal to students already considering higher education.
The state of Tennessee had a goal to get 20,000 applications for Tennessee Promise before Nov. 1. The goal has been met and exceeded already, more than a month before the deadline.
Krause said these applicants are students who were not even considering schools like Union, if they were considering higher education at all.
“Their design is really to get people who aren’t considering higher education at all to consider higher education, and that’s a laudable goal,” Oliver said.
Krause said the program is focused on the 41 percent of Tennessee high school graduates who are not even looking at college.
The Hope Scholarship will still distribute the same amount of $16,000 over the course of four academic school years. However, students will now get less in their first two years that will be compensated for in their latter years at a four-year school.
The Tennessee Promise was modeled after a similar, smaller-scale program in the Knoxville area called Tennessee Achievers. In six years of measuring the effects of Tennessee Achievers in and around Knoxville, Krause said there were no signs of harm to that area’s four-year schools.
Tennessee Promise is one initiative within Drive to 55. The Drive to 55 Alliance is a project directed at raising the number of Tennesseans with postsecondary degrees to at least 55 percent. The Drive to 55 Alliance works with existing schools to make adult studies and nontraditional studies more flexible and available to more students.