The Tennessee Promise will provide all Tennessee high school graduates with the opportunity to attend a community college or Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) free of tuition and fees and provide them a mentor to ensure their success.
The Tennessee Promise
The Tennessee Promise is an opportunity for all graduating high school seniors—regardless of socioeconomic status or academic performance—to obtain a TCAT certificate, diploma, or associate’s degree free of tuition and fees. The Tennessee Promise will provide students with a last-‐dollar scholarship, which means it will bridge the funding gap for a student after all other financial aid is applied. While removing the financial burden is key, a critical component of the Promise is providing individual guidance to each participant through a statewide network of volunteer mentors. The University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and Economic Research recently found that a strong mentoring program coupled with a last-‐dollar scholarship increased a student’s likelihood of attending college by more than 20 percent. The Tennessee Promise will require approximately 5,000 volunteer mentors from across the state.
All recipients must meet certain requirements such as: (1) completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), (2) working with an assigned mentor, (3) attending a college orientation, (4) maintaining satisfactory academic progress, and (5) performing one day of community service each semester.
Importance of Making this Promise
In order to reach 55 percent by 2025, our state needs an additional 494,000 degrees, particularly in programs provided at our TCATs and two-‐year schools. We cannot reach our goal without helping the 41 percent of Tennessee high school graduates who do not go on to postsecondary education. For many of these seniors, financial barriers and a lack of support make the difference in their decision to forgo a postsecondary degree. The Tennessee Promise eliminates the financial barrier and provides support for those students who desire more but cannot do it on their own. Tennessee Promise recipients in many cases will be the first in their families to pursue an education beyond high school.
Promising postsecondary education opportunities to every Tennessee student will improve the state’s future by heightening expectations, placing greater value on postsecondary education, and helping to transform our communities and our state.
Cost of the Tennessee Promise
It is estimated that the cost of the program will be $34 million annually. In order to make the Promise sustainable, we will transfer approximately $300 million in excess lottery reserve funds and join it with the $47 million endowment created by the General Assembly in 2013 to fund the program in perpetuity. In addition, we will increase the 2-‐year degree HOPE award from $2,000 to $3,000 to reduce the amount of the “last dollar.” Students will now receive $3,000 for the freshman and sophomore years—whether at a two-‐year or four-‐year institution—and $5,000 for the junior year and beyond at a four-‐year institution.
Administration of the Tennessee Promise
Counties and high schools that do not already have a qualifying partner non-‐profit organization will set one up in order to provide the additional support and mentoring required to receive the Tennessee Promise scholarship. Students will apply for the scholarship through these organizations. If a student meets all the requirements, TSAC will then distribute the scholarship directly to the institution on the student’s behalf. As a result, 100 percent of Tennessee Promise dollars will go toward student scholarships.