Sixty-three percent of students who enrolled in college for the first time in the fall of 2015 through the Tennessee Promise program re-enrolled in fall of 2016, according to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.
The program, launched in 2014, was the first in the nation to provide two years of free community college or technical education to graduating high school seniors.
More than 33,000 students have taken advantage of the program since its inception, including 16,790 students who enrolled in college in the fall of 2016, according to a news release from THEC. That number represents about a 500 student increase from 2015.
“Education beyond high school is critical to the Tennessee we can be, and while it’s still early in the Tennessee Promise story, the results so far are incredibly encouraging,” Gov. Bill Haslam said in the release.
The news comes as Haslam announced earlier this week plans for a sister program, Tennessee Reconnect, that would allow adults to attend community college tuition-free. If approved, Tennessee would become the first state in the nation to offer all residents — both high school students and adults — the chance to earn a post-secondary degree or certificate free of tuition and fees and at no cost to taxpayers.
Both programs are part of Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative to reach a goal of 55 percent of Tennesseans with a degree or credential by 2025.
THEC called the 63 percent retention rate for Tennessee Promise strong and said it is an indication that students are not only enrolling in college, but staying enrolled. The retention rate was even higher among students who enrolled in technical college, where 83 percent of students returned in 2016. At community colleges, 58 percent of Tennessee Promise students re-enrolled, compared to 42 percent of non-Tennessee Promise students.
“The successes that we have seen with Tennessee Promise have inspired a number of other states to develop Promise-type scholarships, and these numbers are encouraging for both Tennessee and other states,” THEC Executive Director Mike Krause said in the release. “The growth in enrollment and the retention numbers are short-term indicators of long-term success for the Drive to 55.”
Since the implementation of the program in 2014, first-time freshman enrollment in public higher education has increased by 13 percent in Tennessee, the release said. The growth reflects a 32 percent increase in first-time freshman enrollment at technical colleges and a 30 percent increase at the state’s community colleges.
The total cost of the scholarship, which is funded by the state’s lottery, is $25.3 million for 2016-17, with an average award of $1,090 per student.