Gov. Bill Haslam was in Memphis Tuesday to visit the first class of Southwest Tennessee Community College students who are attending college tuition-free this year with the Tennessee Promise.
The Tennessee Promise provides high school graduates two free years of community or applied technology college through a $361.1 million endowment using excess reserves from the Tennessee Lottery.
Haslam said the start of the fall semester is the culmination of a lot of people thinking and dreaming “what if.”
“What if we can say every student who graduated from high school had two years of community college tuition free? What if we could say to every adult in Tennessee period, regardless of education background, that you can go to one of our TCATs to get the training you need?” he said.
As Haslam has visited community colleges this week, students have been holding signs that say “Thank you Gov. Haslam,” but Haslam said, the General Assembly were really the ones who played a key role in the passing of Tennessee Promise, as he recognized each representative present.
Tracy D. Hall, president of SWTCC, said many students attending Southwest this fall are recipients of Tennessee Promise, “a vital building block for improving future economic development in our state,” she said.
Ashley Shores, president of the Student Government Association, said many of the students she represents struggle to attend school due to finances.
“This program sends students the message that nothing should stop them in their pursuit of higher education,” she said.
Mike Krause, executive director of Tennessee Promise, said Tennessee Promise students had completed 180,000 community service hours this year to participate in the program, and that the state would release final attendance numbers this week.
Haslam said today is not the end of a journey to get to this point, but a start.
“This is not about access to college,” he said. ”This is about success, so the goal is not to show up to class the first day — the goal is to have them walk across the stage two years from now.”
Haslam publicly told Dr. Hall he would return as the graduation speaker for the first graduating class of Tennessee Promise students, if she made sure students maintained their chance to achieve their goals.
Hall responded by saying Southwest is not only a community college, but it is the community’s college. “We are ready and able and strong to partner with you to move Memphis forward,” she said.