The bill would add an additional way for students to qualify for a community college HOPE scholarship and lower the grade-point average to retain that scholarship from a 3.0 to a 2.75.
The changes will help students in Tennessee, where only 24 percent of students attain a higher education degree, complete their higher education, panel chairwoman Jamie Woodson said.
The bill would also boost the size of each scholarship for traditional four-year colleges from $3,800 to $4,000 and reward students who choose to take tougher courses in high school increases up to $1,000.
"We have an attainment gap in Tennessee when only 24 percent achieve their post-baccalaureate degree," said Woodson, R-Knoxville. "We've got to close that gap."
The Senate Finance Committee will next consider the bill. Its companion is scheduled to be considered Wednesday in the House Education Committee.
Sen. Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey, said the lowered GPA standard could help students who graduate from lower-achieving high schools and struggle with their college work. "Those kids can't help it if they've not been taught," she said. "I was hoping we were lowering just a little bit to give those kids a little bit of an edge." A special panel appointed by Gov. Phil Bredesen earlier in the year to review the lottery scholarship program after the Tennessee Higher Education Commission issued a report showing three out of four students were losing the scholarship before they graduate because their grades weren't high enough. That panel recommended that lawmakers lower the minimum GPA required for scholarship retention not only for community college students but also for students at traditional four-year colleges. Woodson stressed during discussion of the bill last week that the focus should be on ensuring students are better prepared for college rather than lowering the standards for scholarship retention. Woodson agreed to the community college scholarship change at the request of Democrats on the Education Committee. Sen. Joe Haynes, D-Goodlettsville, called the decision to lower the GPA retention requirement for community college scholarships and not for four-year scholarships a compromise. "I didn't want to dumb it down too much, but you've got to give these students something to reach for," he said. Under current state law, to qualify for the community college lottery scholarship, a student must either score a 21 on the ACT college entrance test or have a 3.0 cumulative high school grade-point average. The bill would also allow students who scores 19s on the ACT college entrance test to qualify for a scholarship. If community college students score lower than a 19 on the math or English portions of the ACT, they must take remedial classes. A student can score lower than a 19 on an individual section of the ACT and still score a composite 21 or higher if they score high on the test's other sections. "With a 19 on math they could go into community college and be successful," Woodson said.