TnAchieves, an organization that has partnered with Tennessee Promise and will administer nonfinancial components of college attendance through two and a half years of free tuition, projects 435 students will apply for the program between the four Sullivan County high schools, which will require 87 volunteer mentors.
Volunteer mentors, after completing training, will meet with their students for an hour each month to help guide the student through the college application process, making sure that they meet deadlines and progress toward college and will also provide extra support.
“They — more than anything — encourage the students to reach their full potential, make sure that they take advantage of this opportunity; it’s a one-time shot,” said Graham Thomas with TnAchieves, who addressed the board at its regular meeting Tuesday. “They only get to apply during their senior year.”
Sullivan County Director of Schools Jubal Yennie encouraged Thomas to challenge the board of education members to register as mentors. As of Tuesday, only 15 people had registered to be mentors, Thomas said.
“…You would be the only school board in the state that can make the claim that you have a 100 percent participation rate, which I think would speak volumes here to the community and your involvement above what you already do in your current role,” Thomas said. He also asked the board for its help with the program.
“We need some help here just navigating the community and finding those additional 72 people that we think we’re going to need,” he said. “Talking with your principals, it sounds like we might sign up here way more that 435 students, which means we would need more volunteers to go with them. We could use help getting into any of those pockets here of individuals that you know are active in your community and invested in education. … We need about 6,000 volunteers across the state, so any guidance or leadership that we could have from you certainly would be appreciated.”
Yennie said there is a “big order to fill this year” since “Tennessee Promise is now launched and on the go.”
Tennessee Promise is Gov. Bill Haslam’s initiative that allows Tennessee high school seniors who graduate in 2015 to attend community or technical college for two and half years tuition free, Thomas said.
Thomas touted the stats of the organization that has been in operation since 2008 and has worked with 30,000 students so far. In that time, he said, 68 percent of students who have participated have been the first in their families to go to college and 70 percent come from low-income families. Students are retained at the college level from fall to fall at a 40 percent higher rate than the state average, he added.
“We know with our student population that the vast majority of them are low-income, first-generation college students,” Thomas said. “So the piece of this that’s the tuition-free college from Tennessee Promise is very important. We want to bridge that financial gap and make sure that every student in the state has the finances to attend college for two and a half years, get an associate’s degree, get a certificate and come out into the workforce.”
He added that part of that outcome includes the Drive to 55 initiative that states by 2025, 55 percent of the adult population in Tennessee will need some type of post-secondary credential to “really keep our state economically viable.”
“It’s about 494,000 additional college degrees than we’re currently expected to achieve between now and 2025,” Thomas said.