Katherine Burgess, The Jackson Sun
The deadline to apply for the Tennessee Promise scholarship is Nov. 1, information high school seniors need to spread, said Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.
“We’re incredibly excited about this,” Haslam said. “It was great the legislature passed it. It was great that we found a way to pay for it; but it doesn’t do us any good if students don’t know about it and don’t apply.”
Haslam met Monday at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Jackson to speak to high school seniors, elected officials, TCAT employees and school board members about the program that offers graduating seniors two years of community college or college of applied technology free of tuition and fees.
Tennessee Promise operates off a “last dollar” principle, paying the amount not covered by a normal financial aid package. Money comes from lottery reserves and does not cover books, housing or transportation.
Recipients must maintain a 2.0 GPA, fulfill eight hours of community service each semester, attend full time, be a Tennessee resident and attend two mandatory meetings.
“We want to make certain that when your generation comes into the workforce and 10 years from now, 20 years from now that we’re where we need to be in terms of Tennesseans,” Haslam said. “… It’s a promise that will speak volumes to future generations of Tennesseans and businesses.”
The scholarship program is part of “Drive to 55,” an initiative derived from the fact that in 11 years, 55 percent of Tennesseans will need a certificate or degree to get a job. Only 32 percent of Tennesseans qualify now, according to the Census Bureau.
Before addressing the group, Haslam met with five seniors to ask advice on spreading the message and to learn their concerns.
Victoria Chin, a senior at Madison Academic High School, said she wanted to clarify questions about the scholarship with the governor.
“I’m very excited,” Chin said of the scholarship. “This is the route I’m going to take. First two years at Jackson State [Community College], tuition free, then transfer to Union [University].”
Kameron Wilson, another senior at Madison Academic, told the governor he is looking at four-year schools. However, Wilson acknowledged that having Tennessee Promise would help.
“It would make the process much easier and less challenging — less worrying for my parents, take some of the burden off of them,” Wilson said.
For Darius Phinnessee, a senior at Jackson Central-Merry High School, having the governor meet with him was an exciting moment.
Phinnessee said he hoped he represented his school well in answering the governor’s questions.
“I was happy and I was shocked [to be selected],” Phinnessee said. “It feels good.”
Follow Katherine Burgess on Twitter @kathsburgess