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Tennessee Promise offers two years of community college for free

On April 15, 2014, the state of Tennessee took its final official steps in ratifying Governor Bill Haslam’s “Tennessee Promise Scholarship Act (TPSA)” proposal. The highlights of this legislation include far-reaching scholarship opportunities (on the order of millions of dollars) offered through the state as a stop-gap to any student who registers, demonstrates need, and remains in good standing with the program.

The plan will draw predominantly from excess funds collected by Lottery Tennessee, the state’s official lottery system. Lawmakers anticipate essentially no additional requirements from taxes or other sectors of the state’s budget. The bill is part of Governor Haslam’s more broad-sweeping “Drive to 55” initiative, which seeks to achieve a number of statewide goals regarding both higher education and work-preparedness rates by the year 2025.

During Bill Haslam’s fourth State of the State Address (delivered in February of this year), Gov. Haslam outlined his vision for renewed focus on education. The governor’s plan would still leave over $100 million in Tennessee’s state lottery accounts. This ensures that even the host source of funds (Lottery Tennessee) will not be endangered by the strain of providing these new scholarships.

The TPSA passed its last stage of voting in the Tennessee House and Senate on April 15, and is now simply pending the logistics of its own implementation.

The governor originally proposed an additional measure which would provide school vouchers to children living in underperforming public school zones. This measure was ultimately withdrawn due to disagreement among state lawmakers and is not a part of the bill that ultimately passed.

The Tennessee Promise bill currently aims to provide for every recent graduate of high school that might apply, paving the way for such students to pursue two years of college-level schooling at the state’s expense. Students graduating in or after fall of 2015 can look forward to these options.

Institutions that will become available to all qualifying high school graduates include a number of community colleges and technical school options in the state. The Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) is an association of technical training institutions to which the Tennessee Promise bill also grants access.

Funds from this scholarship would only become available to students after they complete the FAFSA for a given semester, and in general only after they document their own “due diligence” in securing other scholarships first. In this way, the Tennessee Promise ensures that the direst financial situations are given the highest priority.

Governor Bill Haslam has successfully passed his Tennessee Promise Scholarship Act into law, allowing any high school graduate to apply for funds in pursuit of a college degree. The initiative will be funded almost exclusive by Lottery Tennessee, and so is not expect to affect taxes or other state budget concerns. Starting in 2015, poverty-affected students from Tennessee can expect additional financial options to become available to them as they pursue a technical or professional degree.