Tennessee Promise: How prepared are local colleges?


Kylie McGivern, WJHL

ELIZABETHTON, TN (WJHL) –Big, bold, and groundbreaking. Tennessee Promise is the first of it’s kind. Now, details on where schools stand a year out from it’s implementation.

Tennessee Promise will provide every high school graduate the opportunity to attend a community or technical college for free. No tuition. No fees.

“If Tennessee is going to compete for the jobs that will exist 10 years from now, we have to have the people with the right training,” Governor Bill Haslam told News Channel 11 in May.

Haslam made the promise public 7 months ago, as part of his “Drive to 55” initiative aimed at increasing the number of Tennesseans with a higher education.

News Channel 11’s Kylie McGivern met with community and technical college leaders Thursday, to learn about any challenges they may face in keeping the Tennessee Promise.

Kylie: “Is there any concerns on your all’s end in terms of being able to handle that increase in students?”

Director of Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Elizabethton : “There’s actually not, not for us.”

“We’re ready,” President of Northeast State Community College Dr. Janice Gilliam said.

Ready, for the influx of high school graduates that will include many first-generation college students.

“We’re looking at at least a 10 percent increase, to maybe as high as a 20-25% increase,” Blevins said. 

“We think we’re gonna double the number of freshman,” Gilliam said. 

That’s because the Tennessee Promise offers every student in the state an unprecedented opportunity. The scholarship will take care of all tuition and fees not covered by the Pell grant, Hope scholarship, or TSAA funds.

“It’s going to change the lives of the students, but even more importantly, it’s going to change the economic and workforce development around this area,” Gilliam said.

Thanks to expansion projects recently completed or currently underway, Gilliam and Blevins both say, bring on the students.

“The college just completed a $16 million new campus renovation and consolidation project, so we could easily handle a 50-80% increase in our enrollments,” Blevins said. 

“We could take another 1,000 students, 1,500 fairly easily across the region,” Gilliam said. 

“Johnson City teaching site will obviously be a huge player,” Gilliam said. “We’re doubling the space of Elizabethton, and obviously we expanded at Bristol, adding new programs of study, and we’re getting a new building on the main campus, the Emerging Technologies Complex, a $35 million building in 2017. So just – not a day too early!”

Once Tennessee Promise students are in the door, each must have a mentor, complete 8 hours of community service per semester, and maintain at least a 2.0 GPA.

“It is a truly historic event. In the 60’s, the G. I. Bill impacted community colleges – there was 1 new community college on average a week, for 10 years,” Gilliam said. “This has –can have a similar impact in getting those high school students, first-time, first-generation students to really see what college is like.”

The most important thing to keep in mind? The November 1 deadline, not only for high school seniors to be eligible, but anyone wanting to become a mentor.

The simplest way to get all the information you need is to visit Tennessee Promise’s website.

To volunteer as a student mentor, you just have to be willing to invest 10-15 hours annually, helping between 5-10 high school seniors, be 21 years or older, go through a background check, and complete the necessary training.

Northeast State is holding a Tennessee Promise High School Counselor event next Thursday at 11:30.

Meanwhile, some of Tennessee’s top lawmakers will join education leaders later this month to hold a summit on the future of education in the Volunteer State. Governor Bill Haslam, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, and House Speaker Beth Harwell organized the September 18th event titled, “Progress of the Past, Present and Future.”

The meeting takes place in Nashville, and will focus on new testing requirements, as well as the ongoing education overhaul in Tennessee, including Common Core.

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