Editorial: Southwest Tennessee Community College, TNPromise ready to change lives in Memphis

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s Tennessee Promise initiative, which will let students attend a community college or state college of applied technology tuition free, kicked off this week.

If successful, it will be a major weapon in the governor’s Drive to 55 campaign, which has a goal of having 55 percent of Tennesseans equipped with a college degree or technology certificate by the year 2025.

Success promises to bring a host of benefits to the state in terms of economic development projects that attract high-paying jobs. And that means a better quality of life for Tennesseans.

Tennessee Promise provides last-dollar scholarships, which kick in when students have exhausted other federal and state grants, that allows students to attend a community college or technology college tuition free in exchange for community service.

It promises to provide an opportunity for any high school graduate to attend college to earn an associate degree or career certificate, or even go on to earn a four-year college degree.

Haslam visited Southwest Tennessee Community College Tuesday to help kick off the program here.

In many ways, Memphis is ground zero for what Haslam wants to accomplish with Tennessee Promise. Only 23.7 percent of the city’s population 25 years old or older has a college degree. That compares to 33.3 percent statewide for Tennesseans between the ages of 25 and 64.

Studies have shown that if the city could increase the number of college graduates here by 1 percent, it would mean a $1 billion economic impact boost. In a city with a 28 percent poverty rate, that is a significant number.

Under Tennessee Promise, Southwest Tennessee Community College has a big role to play.

During a visit Wednesday with The Commercial Appeal’s editorial board, new STCC President Dr. Tracy D. Hall acknowledged that fact, while emphasizing that the success of Tennessee Promise will be measured by how many of the students entering college under the program this fall go on to receive a degree or certificate.

That, she said, will take a coordinated effort by STCC staff to ensure the support is in place to make sure students actually register and stay in school.

She also made another important point: The state’s public school districts must graduate students who are ready to succeed in a postsecondary institution. Shelby County Schools Supt. Dorsey Hopson, who was present at STCC’s Macon Road campus during Haslam’s visit, said that is SCS’s core goal.

He said the district has a strategy and support system in place to make sure students, especially first-generation college students, enroll in Tennessee Promise.

Tennessee Promise has drawn national attention. For instance, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush mentioned the initiative this week when a reporter asked him about job creation and having a trained workforce.

Those are two major topics in Memphis, and are frequently mentioned by the candidates for mayor in the Oct. 8 city election.

STCC has been major partner in the numerous workforce development efforts taking place here, and it is our hope that Dr. Hall and her administrators will be a visible and accessible presence in showcasing the college’s role.

Tennessee Promise can be a game changer in the important effort to better educate the state’s drive to increase the education level of its citizens. STCC is a key roadway in that effort.

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