Gov. Bill Haslam delivers his State of the State address in Nashville Monday. AP photo.
KINGSPORT — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam insisted his “Tennessee Promise” — a proposal to give graduating high school seniors two years of free tuition at a community college or a college of applied technology (TCAT) — will “move the needle” in his initiative to generate more higher education degrees in the state.
Haslam, a Republican, introduced the proposal to lawmakers during his fourth “State of the State” address Monday night.
On Tuesday, he began selling the idea to Tri-Cities newspaper editorial boards as part of his “Drive to 55” plan aimed at increasing the number of Tennesseans with a certificate or degree beyond high school. His administration says that in 11 years, 55 percent of Tennesseans will need a certificate or degree to get a job, but today, only 32 percent of Tennesseans qualify.
“It’s about changing the culture of expectations,” Haslam said of his plan in a meeting with members of the Times-News Editorial Board. “If you went to college or your parents went to college, you grew up thinking you would do that, but a whole lot of Tennesseans don’t grow up that way. They assume anything beyond high school is not necessary or even if it was, is not possible. What we’re trying to do is shock the system into saying ‘Wow, school beyond high school is possible for me.’... We’re shooting for a fall rollout (of the proposal).”
Haslam’s plan is similar to Sullivan County’s “Educate and Grow” scholarship that began giving free tuition to students attending Northeast State Community College more than 10 years ago.
The governor said that in Sullivan County alone, more than 1,500 high school seniors could be offered Tennessee Promise scholarships and mentor guidance. Another 500-plus students could enroll in a TCAT institution, according to the Haslam administration.
More than 58,000 Sullivan County residents do not currently have a degree.
Haslam, as the state’s chief salesman, said his plan is needed because he’s seeing a “skills gap” right now with Tennessee workers.
He has advocated transferring about $300 million in lottery reserve funds to create an endowment for his plan, with $9.3 million budgeted to pay for the first year. Haslam is also hoping to change the state’s Wilder-Naifeh Technical Skills Grant eligibility to include students who once had a Tennessee Lottery “Hope” scholarship but lost it.
“We need to give some adults a second chance to get a degree or certificate,” Haslam said. “... Right now a key issue is about 70 percent of our students who graduate from high school need remedial work when they get to community college. The problem is if you do that remedial work in community college, there’s only a 10 percent chance you graduate.”
Haslam has put money in his proposed $32.6 billion budget for the coming fiscal year for a statewide expansion of the Seamless Alignment of Integrated Learning (SAILS) program to eliminate the need for remedial math courses for students entering college. He is also proposing offering one dual enrollment course to high school students at no cost with discounted courses available afterwards. Dual enrollment, he said, allows high school students to take college credit courses, and there is a 94 percent probability those students will go on to college.
“It’s all about ways figuring out how to get students in (college),” Haslam noted.
Haslam said expanding a so-called “Degree Compass” program — that predicts the subjects and majors in which students will be most successful — will help get more students through college.
His administration will also attempt to identify and recruit back into college an estimated 940,000 Tennesseans who have some college credit but not a degree.
“College attendance has flattened out, and maybe decreased some,” Haslam pointed out.
The final piece of his higher ed proposal is changing the Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarship allotment to incentivize completion by raising the scholarship for two-year schools from $2,000 to $3,000 and shifting the scholarship for four-year schools from $4,000 to $3,000 the first two years and $5,000 the last two years.
For more about Haslam’s plan go to www.tn.gov.