What The State’s Largest Public College System Expects From Tennessee Promise


Gov. Bill Haslam gives out pens to Overton High School students after ceremonially signing the Tennessee Promise bill. Now, public public colleges are preparing for an influx — or decrease — in first-time freshmen next year. Credit: Micah Bradley / WPLN

Emily Siner, Nashville Public Radio

The Tennessee Board of Regents may see 5,000 to 6,000 new students next year — meaning students who otherwise wouldn’t attend a TBR school — as a result of Tennessee Promise, the last-dollar scholarship program that allows high school graduates to attend community college for free.

An increase in enrollment is a welcome change for TBR, which has seen campus numbers steadily decline for the past few years. But now four-year schools will be competing within the system for freshmen who could go to a community college for free.

TBR runs six four-year universities, including MTSU and Tennessee State University, along with the state’s 13 public community colleges. Chancellor John Morgan says universities are expecting a decline in first-time freshmen enrollment.

“I don’t think we’ll see unhealthy competition for enrollment — I do think we’ll see our institutions trying to make sure that potential students understand what the benefits are,” he says.

Morgan says universities are also looking out of state to find students who might boost their numbers. And then, in a few years, they’ll hope those community college graduates will transfer over.

“We would expect, after the [Tennessee Promise] program is mature, to see increased enrollment in upper divisions in our universities, where frankly we have a lot of capacity,” he says.

The estimated number of students expected to enroll in the TBR system solely because of Tennessee Promise is based on a fiscal note from the state. According to preliminary data from TBR, about 17,000 students enrolled as first-time freshmen in community colleges this fall — meaning that TBR is expecting first-time freshmen enrollment in community colleges to increase by about a third next fall.

Morgan notes that the actual number of new students might exceed the estimates, because more students are applying to the program than the state initially expected.

The deadline for high school seniors to apply to Tennessee Promise is November 1.

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