Kingsport Times News Friday, August 1, 2014

Regional & National Education

Board of Regents chancellor: Tennessee Promise a fast-forward for Tennessee

April 18th, 2014 6:00 am by Hank Hayes

Board of Regents chancellor: Tennessee Promise a fast-forward for Tennessee

Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan

BLOUNTVILLE — Tennessee is "on a track to move forward faster" now that state lawmakers have passed a measure to offer free tuition to future community college and technical students, Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan said Thursday.

Morgan told a small crowd of students, faculty and community leaders at Northeast State Community College that the legislature's decision will make so-called "Tennessee Promise" scholarships available by fall 2015.

"I think it did take awhile for people to understand what the program was proposing to be and what it wasn't," Morgan said of Tennessee Promise. "Initially, there was quite a bit of concern over whether or not the financing would be sustainable and if we would be able to carry it out far into the future. ... The (Gov. Bill Haslam) administration did a good job of talking with folks."

Tennessee Promise is part of Haslam's ambitious "Drive to 55" initiative to increase the state's percentage of higher education graduates from 32 percent now to 55 percent by 2025.

In raw numbers, that means putting college degrees in the hands of nearly a half-million people.

Tennessee, according to the Haslam administration, ranks 42nd nationally in earning college degrees and certificates. Only 22 percent of Sullivan County adults have bachelor's degrees and above. In Hawkins County, it's only 14 percent.

Morgan said next year's high school graduating class will be eligible for last-dollar Tennessee Promise scholarships.

About 25,000 students are projected to participate and they'll be expected to attend mandatory meetings, complete the free application for federal student aid (aka, the FAFSA), work with a mentor, maintain at least a 2.0 grade-point average and perform eight hours of public service, Morgan noted.

"You can't be mowing your grandmother's yard, but it can be other things," Morgan said of the public service requirement.

Tennessee Promise is expected to cost about $34 million annually. It's being funded by using $300 million in excess lottery reserve funds and joining that money with a $47 million endowment.

Morgan said yearly tuition at a community college or college of applied technology could be at $3,700 by 2015.

Tennessee Promise, Morgan added, won't pay for textbooks, housing, transportation or specialized fees, and will be only for full-time students.

"One of the things we know from studying the data is students able to attend full time are more likely to be successful," Morgan pointed out.

Still, Tennessee Promise is getting off the ground as higher education funding in the coming fiscal year remains flat, and as students continue to deal with increased K-12 education standards initiated during former Gov. Phil Bredesen's administration.

But outside Tennessee, the program is getting lots of media attention and will bring more people into higher education, Morgan stressed.

"Many of those students would have enrolled anyway or would have already come to our community colleges," he said of future high school graduates. "But 20 percent or more will be students we don't think would have come to school but for the fact that the Tennessee Promise is available."

Morgan also maintained more jobs will require post-secondary education between now and 2025.

"If we want to have the economy we want to have in 10 years ... it will take even an higher education level than 55 percent. ... When we get there, we don't need to stop. We need to continue to improve," Morgan said.

For more about Drive to 55 go to www.driveto55.org.

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