Andrea Agardy, The Tullahoma News
Last week Mayor Lane Curlee put out a call for volunteers interested in helping high school students make the transition to higher education, and on Tuesday evening the community responded enthusiastically.
More than 50 area residents filled the second-floor courtroom in city hall to learn more about becoming a mentor for the Tennessee Promise program.
Last February, Gov. Bill Haslam announced the statewide program through which all high school graduates, or students who have completed a home-school program, will be eligible for two years of free tuition at a community colleges, college of applied technology (TCAT) or an in-state four-year college or university that offers associate’s degree programs.
Members of the class of 2015 will be the first group of graduates offered the incentive. The program operates as a “last-dollar scholarship,” covering the remaining costs after all other financial aid is applied, with the exception of loans and work-study.
The Tennessee Promise comes with an estimated annual price tag of $34 million. A new endowment will help fund the program by transferring approximately $300 million in lottery reserves and combining those funds with the $47 million endowment the General Assembly created last year. On top of that, the amount of the two-year Hope Scholarship award will be reduced to $3,000 for freshman and sophomore years at both two- and four-year institutions.
Currently, Hope Scholarship students attending four-year institutions receive up to $6,000 per year, and those at two-year schools can receive as much as $3,000. Hope Scholarships would be capped at $5,000 a year for junior year and beyond.
In order to participate in Tennessee Promise, students would have to meet a number of requirements, including working with an assigned mentor and completing and submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and college applications before the respective deadlines. tnAchieves has partnered with Tennessee Promise to provide the necessary mentors.
Tennessee Promise is part of the governor’s Drive to 55 campaign, an effort to boost the state’s percentage of college graduates from 33 percent to 55 percent by 2025.
In addition to Curlee, Dan Lawson, director of Tullahoma City Schools, Mary Lou Apple, president of Motlow State Community College and Jennifer Dreis, regional coordinator for tnAcheives, addressed the group of prospective mentors.
Officials expect 60 mentors will be needed to meet the demand in Coffee County and, according to Lawson, there are still many slots available.
“We had more than half of the required number of mentors before our meeting on Tuesday and are confident that we will drop a mentor or two as life situations change so added mentors are always needed,” he said.
The mentor positions are open to anyone in the community interested in lending a hand, regardless of educational background or experience. Mentors will be matched with between 10 to 15 students apiece, and the majority of the interaction will take place through email or text messages. Mentors will be asked to serve as a support system for the students, and to provide reminders for various filing deadlines.
Lawson said he was encouraged to see so many people attend this week’s meeting.
“I thought that was a great number and was impressed by the questions posed as well as the interest exhibited,” the director of school said. “We enjoyed a positive interaction with exceptional community involvement and we are confident that this program will assist in changing the educational and economic status of our community and state.”
The deadline to sign up to be Tennessee Promise mentor is Nov. 1, the same date by which students interested in receiving the tuition funds must apply.
Andrea Agardy can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.