Tennessee Promise opens doors for students in rural counties

Leslie Ackerson, WBIR.com

College is a dream for many but the challenge of applying and the price tag can pose big hurdles for students and families.

A new promise by the state of Tennessee to pay for two years of community college is opening that door for thousands of students. It’s part of Governor Haslam’s push to move the percentage of people in Tennessee with a degree in higher education from 32 percent to 55 percent during the next decade.

“Our students and families have looked at this with open eyes, and said this is an opportunity for me, I’m going to make this happen,” said Vicki Farrara.

As Gear Up coordinator with Grainger County schools, Farrara helps seniors tackle the financial aid and college application process.

In the guidance office at Grainger High School you’ll find a chart, listing every senior and a checklist.

“We routinely have the kids come in and every milestone that they meet they checked it off,” said Farrara.

It’s just one of the ways the county has achieved a 99 percent application rate for students seeking financial help for college.

“Many of our students come from low income families, first generation families,” said Farrara.

80 percent of this year’s graduating class in Grainier County will be the first to attend college in their families.

“I guess excitement is the best word for that just because we welcome this opportunity for our students, to be able to go.” said Farrara.

Director of schools Dr. Edd Jarnagan says its the counselors and staff, like Farrara, who have worked tirelessly to help students through the process.

The Tennessee Achieves mentor program started here in Knox County and has worked to make college a reality for thousands of students. Now that program is statewide and the Governor added lottery money with the Tennessee Promise to help fund two years scholarships. No one is more excited than students and leaders in rural counties.

“I’m excited to get a degree, get a career get started,” said Kaitlyn Harrison.

A 12th grader at Grainger High, Tennessee Promise will fuel her journey’s start to a master’s degree.

“That takes a lot of expense off of us,” said Harrison, “And being able to transfer to ETSU the next two years that makes it a lot easier.”

For others, it’s a backup plan.

“it’s just a great opportunity that its provided for use as a backup or just for anyone who needs it,” said Senior Zachary Jones. Just like Kaitlyn, he’s excited for the adventure and future a college education will bring.

Over 50 thousand high school seniors applied for Tennessee Promise in 2014. More than 60 percent of Tennessee’s high school seniors have applied to get federal aid for college so far this year,.

According to data from the Tennessee HIgher Education Commission, this is the highest rate of any other state in the country.

“Our students and families have looked at this with open eyes, and said this is an opportunity for me, I’m going to make this happen,” said Vicki Farrara.

Comments are closed.