The Tennessee Promise scholarship program has hit another high, with a record number of high school seniors applying to participate in its third year.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s office announced Wednesday that 60,780 students have signed up for the program, making them eligible for a tuition-free education at any of the state’s community or technical colleges. That marks the third-straight year of growth for Tennessee Promise, which has gotten praise from President Barack Obama and higher education leaders across the nation since it was signed into law in 2014.
The program received 58,286 applicants in 2014 and 59,621 applicants in 2015. Although the majority of those applicants left the program in favor of a four-year college or other options, state leaders have connected the program with a substantial boost in Tennessee’s college enrollment.
First-time freshmen enrollment jumped by 25 percent at community colleges and 20 percent at technical colleges in 2015, and the college-going rate surged to 62.5 percent, representing a year-to-year jump of 4.6 points.
Haslam, who first proposed the program during his State of the State address in 2014, is now pushing for more adult mentors to sign up to guide the latest round of students through the college process. He set a goal of recruiting 9,000 volunteer mentors, who will be tasked with meeting twice with a small group of students and answering their questions.
“We don’t just want students to apply to college; we want them to succeed in college and graduate,” Haslam said in a statement. “Mentors play a huge role in the program’s success.”
How to be a mentor
On average, Tennessee Promise mentors spend about an hour a month working with three to seven students as they transition from high school to college. That time is typically spent reminding the students of impending deadlines and serving as an encouraging advocate.
Volunteer mentors must be at least 21 years old, and need to attend a one-hour training session. They also are expected to attend two one-hour meetings with their group of students over the course of a year.
Mentors can apply to participate through Nov. 20 at tnpromise.gov/volunteers.shtml.