Students enrolled in Tennessee’s free community college scholarship, the Tennessee Promise, are showing more signs of success in higher education than their peers not using the program. According to data released by the Tennessee State Board of Regents, 56% of students who started in the Promise program’s first year (2015) remained in school two years later. Only 39% of high school graduates not in the program were still in school during the same time frame.
The program was introduced in 2014 and gives students up to five semesters of tuition-free attendance at any of the state’s 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology, or eligible 4-year institutions offering associate’s degrees. Beyond removing the financial burden, Tennessee Promise offers individual guidance to each participant from a mentor. Mentors help students maneuver through application and financial aid processes, and are mandatory for students to remain eligible for the program. Tennessee Promise scholarship recipients must also complete 8 hours of community service per semester enrolled and keep a GPA above a 2.0.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said, “When we launched Tennessee Promise, one of the legitimate questions was, … ‘Can theses Students succeed?’ I think the results show that these students are succeeding at a decidedly better rate.” Though drop-out rates are lower for Tennessee Promise students, the data also shows that 44 percent of the program’s first classmore than 5,500 studentshad dropped out of college without a degree by 2017. Officials argue that the number is a sign of progress with over 60 percent of non-Promise students dropping out in the same timeframe, a 17 percent difference. Tennessee’s Promise program also continues to grow, and according to The Nashville Tennessean is up four percentage points from last year with nearly 85 percent of high school seniors applying.
According to Governor Haslam, “A lot of our efforts in the remaining year and a half that we have in office will be around how do we dramatically increase the percentage of students who complete.” As an educated workforce becomes critical to ensuring economic prosperity in one’s local, state, and national communities, it seems that Tennessee’s Promise program—with its positive application, retention and graduation rates—is setting up its students for a more certain future.
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