Tennessee Promise needs more mentors

Mealand Ragland-Hudgins, Daily News Journal

Rutherford County is in need of mentors to guide the Class of 2015 through the Tennessee Promise program.

Tennessee Promise offers two years of tuition-free community college or technical center training to Tennessee high school graduates beginning with the Class of 2015. The first program of its kind in the nation, the state will use lottery proceeds to fund a $300 million endowment. The annual cost of the program is estimated to be about $34 million.

Rutherford County needs 329 mentors, but only 86 people have signed up, according to the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce. The deadline for students and mentors to apply is Nov. 1.

Motlow President MaryLou Apple said the lack of volunteers could be because the county has several other mentor programs in place, but being a Tennessee Promise mentor is a good fit for someone with a busy schedule.

“It’s only 10 hours over a 12-month period and only two hours require you to be in a certain place. The rest of the contact you make with students is by phone, email or text,” Apple told The Daily News Journal.

Mentors will be trained by tnAchieves and will spend about an hour a month working with high school seniors to help ensure the high school to college transition is smooth.

The plan is a big component in the governor’s “Drive to 55” initiative aimed at raising the number of college graduates in the state from 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025.

Among the 86 Rutherford County residents to sign up as a mentor is John Black, executive director of the Smyrna Airport. In his personal and professional interactions, Black said he’s encouraging people to sign up.

“I see the importance of having an educated workforce and what that means for their quality of life, but the quality of life for Tennessee as a whole,” Black said. “I didn’t see this as an overly burdensome program. I’m excited about it.”

The program is a “last-dollar scholarship” and will cover tuition and fees not covered by other financial aid. Tennessee Promise funds can be used at any of the state’s 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology or other eligible institution offering an associate’s degree program. Books, housing and transportation are not covered.

“Anyone would make a good mentor, but we’ve found the best way to recruit is by going to large businesses or post-secondary institutions. Vol State (Community College in Gallatin) has provided 100 mentors alone,” said Ben Sterling, outreach coordinator for tnAchieves.

Apple said she and her staff began contacting government and education leaders in Motlow’s 11-county service area in April. Having mentors, she said, will be the key in making Tennessee Promise successful.

“The mentorship aspect will be the difference between throwing money at it and making it work. Sometimes, the kids who need it most don’t have the push from parents or family members,” she said.

In Rutherford County, more than 2,700 high school seniors should be eligible for the Tennessee Promisescholarship, but only about 1,100 are expected to apply. Of that number, roughly 960 are projected to enroll in TCATs or community colleges, the drive55.org website stated.

Mentors have the option to choose how many students they’d like to work with, but most have agreed to work with 5 to 10 students, according to the tnachieves.org.

“If you’re not sure if you can commit to (being a mentor), go to the training session, listen and then make a decision,” Apple said.

Also a volunteer mentor is Murfreesboro Human Resources Director Glen Godwin. He decided to learn more about about the program after Mayor Shane McFarland challenged city employees to consider participating.

“He set the bar pretty high, but it’s a huge program. Another thing that inspired me was as a part of Leadership Rutherford, I had a chance to work with some students going through Youth Leadership Rutherford. I really enjoyed the experience I had with them and wanted to give back in another way,” Godwin said.

Tennessee Promise recipients must be enroll as a full-time student and maintain a 2.0 GPA. They must also fulfill eight hours of community service each semester and attend two mandatory meetings. After graduating from a two-year school, students who choose to attend a four-year school will be able to do so as juniors.

Oakland High guidance counselor Jessica Johnson said the school’s guidance staff visited with all seniors last week to talk about scholarships. The school also sponsored a meeting for parents of graduating seniors.

“I’m telling my students to go ahead and register, because as of Nov. 2, that’s it. There’s no second chance or grace period,” she said, and the school will devote an entire computer lab to students filling out college applications and other paperwork the week of Sept. 29.

Apple said depending on the number of students who take advantage of the program, Motlow’s enrollment could increase by “a few thousand.” The college will offer information sessions at all of its campuses in coming weeks, waiving its application fee for those who apply to the school on those days. The Smyrna campus will hold its session at 10 a.m. Oct. 18.

One of the things that makes the program special, Apple said, is that it’s open to students regardless of academic ability.

“In my 35 years in higher education, this is the first thing that’s truly been for everyone,” she said.

Contact Mealand Ragland-Hudgins at 615-278-5189 or mragland@dnj.com. Follow her on Twitter @dnj_mrhudgins.

About Tennessee Promise

For students: Tennessee Promise offers two years of tuition-free community or technical college to Tennessee high school graduates beginning with the Class of 2015. The program will be funded by state lottery proceeds.

Recipients must be enrolled as full-time students and maintain a 2.0 GPA. They must also fulfill eight hours of community service each semester and attend two mandatory meetings. The Application is available at tnpromise.gov. Deadline is Nov. 1.

Motlow College’s Smyrna campus will hold an information session at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 18, to help students apply for the scholarship. The campus is located at 5002 Motlow College Blvd. For more information, contact Brenda Cannon, director of student and campus relations at Motlow, at 931-393-1548 or bcannon@mscc.edu.

For mentors: Mentors will be trained by tnAchieves, and will spend about an hour a month working with high school seniors to help ensure the high school to college transition is a smooth one.

Nov. 1 is the deadline to apply to be a mentor. To learn more, visit tnachieves.org.

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