Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam paid a visit to Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Covington last Wednesday and held a ceremonial bill signing to promote the passage of a bill dubbed the “Tennessee Promise.”
The bill allows Tennessee high school graduates to attended community and technology colleges (like TCAT in Covington) for free. The program will not take affect until the fall of 2015.
Approximately $300 million dollars will be transferred from the reserves of the Tennessee Lottery to create an endowment. Money will also come from cutting Hope Scholarships for students attending four-year schools.
Hope Scholarship winners will receive $3,000 year, down from $4,000, during their freshman and sophomore years. The scholarship will be increased from $4,000 to $5,000 during students' junior and senior years.
The Tennessee Promise is part of Haslam’s “Drive to 55” initiative aimed at increasing the number of Tennesseans with a certificate or degree beyond high school.
According to Haslam, in 11 years, 55 percent of Tennesseans will need a certificate or degree to get a job. Only 32 percent of Tennesseans qualify now.
“We saw a collision coming,” Haslam told a crowd of 100 or so gathered in a TCAT classroom. “We started with a big dream of what we could do to change that.”
Tennessee is the first state in the country to attempt to make two-year colleges free.
“What if we could make it free?” Haslam said. “We would rather catch them on the front end than catch them with a net on the back end.”
Bill Ray, TCATS's director, introduced Haslam.
“This is going to benefit Tennesseeans for a long time,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), who sponsored the bill with House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga), added, “We are here for the expansion of educational opportunity in Tennessee. It's an important day for education in Tennessee.”
Participating students in the program must graduate from high school, agree to work with a mentor, complete eight hours of community service and maintain a 2.0 GPA during their two years at a two-year school.
Unlike the Hope Scholarship, there are no qualifications pertaining to high school GPA or ACT score.
The state estimates that 25,000 students, or about 40 percent of graduates each year, will apply when the program launches with the graduating class of 2015.
Estimates put the cost of the program around $34 million annually.*