More than 10,000 apply for free-tuition program for Tennessee adults

More than 10,000 people have applied to a new program in Tennessee that allows adults to attend community college or technical schools tuition-free, Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday.

The application period for Tennessee Reconnect opened on Feb. 15. The program was approved by the Legislature last year after Haslam promoted it. It followed in the footsteps of a landmark bill also championed by Haslam and passed in 2014 that allows graduating high school students to attend community college tuition-free.

“The immense interest in Tennessee Reconnect demonstrates that Tennesseans understand the value of a postsecondary credential and that a quality education can help create better lives for them and their families,” Haslam said in a statement. “Tennessee is leading the nation in making college accessible and affordable to anyone who wants to earn a degree. By investing in our workforce through education, we are creating a solid foundation for our state’s economic future.”

The law enacted last year allows any legal adult Tennessee resident without a college degree or certificate to go to trade school or community college tuition-free.

More than two-thirds of applicants have previously enrolled in college and just over half of them have attended college in the past five years. The average age of the applicants is 34 years old and almost 90 percent of them plan to work while attending school, the governor said.

The program has also attracted seniors. Some of the applicants are in their late 70s and early 80s, Haslam’s office said.

State officials are encouraging people to apply by April 15 so they can complete all requirements, including applying for federal financial aid. The application process will remain open all year long.

Offering free tuition at community colleges and technology schools is part of Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2025.

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