More than half of the original pool of Tennessee Promise applicants are still eligible for the scholarship program, according to data released this week by Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
About 31,500 students have met the Promise requirements, attending two mandatory meetings and filing for federal aid, according to preliminary data that includes students from 84 of the state’s 95 counties.
More than 58,000 high school seniors initially applied for the last-dollar scholarship that covers tuition at Tennessee’s community and technical colleges. But officials expect most of them will end up leaving the program to pursue four-year degrees or other options.
The retention rate has surpassed the projections of Tennessee Promise Executive Director Mike Krause, a familiar phenomenon in the program’s first year.
“That’s an exciting data point to see,” Krause said. “This program didn’t exist 12 months ago, and now we have more than 30,000 students on track to go to college tuition-free.”
A few hurdles still remain for students. To maintain eligibility, they’ll have to complete eight hours of community service and finalize their Free Applications for Federal Student Aid.
And Krause still thinks that many of the remaining students see Tennessee Promise as their Plan B. Between 6,000 and 8,000 Tennessee Promise students who filed the FAFSA indicated that a four-year school is their preference, he said.
Krause said he believes the total price of the program’s first year won’t exceed the original $14 million estimate, although it is too soon to say exactly how much Tennessee Promise will cost the state. Promise funds will only pay the cost of tuition that is left over after federal and state aid has been applied, and those numbers have not been finalized.
But preliminary reports from the federal government indicate that existing aid will cover the full cost of community college tuition for more than half of the Tennessee Promise students who filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
For Krause those numbers indicate Tennessee Promise is “reaching students that we need to reach the most,” namely low-income students who qualify for the most need-based aid.
Tennessee Promise retention
• Davidson County: 4,228 applied, 2,005 still eligible
• Williamson County: 1,630 applied, 830 still eligible
• Rutherford County: 2,559 applied, 1,444 still eligible
• Sumner County: 1,984 applied, 1,135 still eligible
• Wilson County: 844 applied, 711 still eligible
• State*: 58,286 applied, 31,514 still eligible
*includes data from 84 of 95 counties