According to Education Week on Thursday, a state has approved a program that would cover tuition at two-year community colleges for any high school graduate after passing the House on Tuesday. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed the proposal after the 87-8 approval came a day after the Senate approved the legislation 30-1.
The proposal is called "Tennessee Promise." The legislation is a cornerstone of the Republican governor's "Drive to 55" campaign to improve the state's graduation rates from the current 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025 to help improve overall job qualifications and attract employers to the state.
The proposal states that after graduation from the two-year colleges, students who choose to attend a four-year school will be able to do so as juniors rather than freshmen. Other states such as Florida, Mississippi and Oregon are considering creating similar programs.
The program is expected to cost about $34 million annually. Haslam suggested the program can be paid for by using $300 million in excess lottery reserve funds joined with a $47 million endowment. The state has about $400 million in reserves.
During the debate on Tuesday, some Republican lawmakers grumbled that the plan is an entitlement program.
However, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick pointed out that it is not an entitlement program. He outlined several things students will be required to do to stay in the program. Students must first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. They must participate in a mandatory college orientation to make sure they are meeting requirements. They must work with a mentor, maintain a 2.0 grade point average, and have perform one day of community service each semester.. McCormick concluded, "This is not just another entitlement program. They have a stringent set of hoops to go through."
There was also some opposition to a part of the plan that would lower the current $4,000 lottery scholarship amount at four-year colleges to $3,500 for freshmen and sophomores. On the other hand, it would increase it to $4,500 for juniors and seniors.
The move is meant to encourage students to consider going to two-year colleges first before enrolling in a four-year college. Many lawmakers approved of the proposal. They believe it an opportunity to help some of the state's poorest students who might not otherwise be able to afford a higher education.
An article on the web said, the state of Tennessee is making it very difficult for students to decide not to go to college. In essence, Tennessee high school graduates will be able to attend community college for free. Lawmakers have approved a bill that will pay all tuition and fees for two years.
This is a great opportunity for families who don't have money to seen their children to college. The average cost of a two-year degree at an in-state school costs more than $10,000 per year. On average, it costs students about $18,000 per year for a four-year degree at an in-state school.
The state is expecting 25,000 students to apply for the Tennessee Promise program that will become effective for the fall semester that starts in 2015.