Interest in the Tennessee Promise scholarship program has once again outpaced expectations, with more than 38,000 students clearing what state officials call the most challenging hurdle for eligibility.
Tennessee Promise Executive Director Mike Krause said Tuesday that 38,165 eligible high school seniors had filed their FAFSAs by the program’s Feb. 15 deadline. That’s 65 percent of the program’s original applicant pool of 58,000.
Krause said those numbers are encouraging, especially given the complicated nature of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and the tipping point it represents for many college students.
“You complete a FAFSA you generally go to college,” Krause said, echoing the findings of researchers across the country. “It was a good day when we got that data.”
Tennessee Promise has driven “massive spikes” in FAFSA applications in some rural pockets of the state, according to Bob Obrohta, executive director of the Tennessee College Access and Success Network, a nonprofit that works to boost college enrollment in Tennessee. Obrohta said students who are intimidated by college’s big price tag are often surprised by the amount of help they receive.
“If you can get them to file the FAFSA, then they understand,” Obrohta said. “These things that looked so far out of reach are now within reach.”
It will take months to know exactly how many students will meet all the requirements for Tennessee Promise, a last-dollar scholarship that offers eligible students the chance to go to community college without paying tuition.
But so far retention is skewing slightly above projections. Krause expects as many as 18,000 Tennessee Promise students might enroll in college this fall.
To remain eligible, students have already been required to attend a planning meeting earlier this year. Another round of required meetings is being held this month, and students also will have to complete eight hours of volunteer work before fall.
A large chunk of applicants might opt out of Tennessee Promise to go to a four-year school or pursue other options.
Students who have lost their Tennessee Promise eligibility can still apply to receive federal aid until May 1.
Tennessee Promise by the numbers
58,286 high school seniors applied for Tennessee Promise in 2014.
38,165 eligible students filed their FAFSAs by the program’s Feb. 15 deadline.
65 percent of the original applicants remain eligible.
Tennessee Promise students in Middle Tennessee
|COUNTY||INITIAL APPLICANTS||SUBMITTED THE FAFSA||STILL ELIGIBLE|