Tennessee Promise meets unique need for incoming college freshmen

Starting fall 2015, incoming college freshmen in the state of Tennessee will have an added incentive to pursue an associate’s degree with the aid of Tennessee Promise.

“Enrollment in the state of Tennessee is really down as a whole, and I think that’s why they introduced the Promise to help students just test the waters of college—to have them see you can go to a two year college and get an associate’s all for free,” said Kayla Brummett, Financial Aid Councilor at Johnson University.

According to The Tennessean, this program began six years ago on a small scale at Pellissippi State Community College, where Knox Achieves offered free tuition to local students, along with a mentoring program. As enrollment increased, other institutions in the state took notice.

Tennessee Promise pays for two years of college tuition towards the 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology in the state, as well as other specific degree programs, according to tnpromise.gov.

Tennessee Promise weighs on accountability by pushing students to do the following tasks before being awarded:

  • Fill out an application and complete FAFSA
  • Attend a mandatory meeting about what the scholarship offers
  • Attend a mandatory college orientation meeting
  • Complete mentoring requirements
  • Agree to eight hours of community service

The transition is smoother for an associate’s degree than for a bachelor’s degree in that the scholarship was created for two-year institutions. However, four-year institutions are looking into how this will impact their university in the long run.

Johnson will offer the Tennessee Promise. Since the university is a four-year school there is a hope that students will continue onto their bachelor’s if they so choose.

“The difference of where it affects a two-year versus a four-year college is that we can award the Promise, but it will only apply if you’re in a pursuit of an associate’s degree and it will only pay whatever the local two-year college price of tuition is, “ Brummett said.

According to a Tennessee Promise memorandum, that two-year college figure is estimated to be $4,158 for the 2015-2016 academic year.  Specifically, Johnson will only be able to offer that amount towards the tuition cost.

Johnson’s projected tuition for fall 2015 is $5,900 for the semester, according to Brummett. If students apply half of the estimated cost of two-year tuition being $2,079, that means they would have to pay approximately $3,800 after the Promise.

However, students still have the opportunity to use Pell Grant and other aid in collaboration with the Promise.

Further, Brummett stated that this will drive students to start college, but could also be complicated for those who decide to continue on to a four-year college as they try to obtain other state aid after the Promise. Especially since the Promise requires immediate enrollment in a university after high school.

“The appeal of it is like Black Friday, everyone wants to go because they might get that door buster item. But if they don’t show up and do the right thing they are not going to receive it,” Brummett said. “So I think there is a great welcome for the Promise, but I think following through is what be difficult for a lot of students.”

Everyone will be watching Tennessee in the next few months. In January, President Obama came to Knoxville, Tennessee to get an ideas on how to implement the program on a Federal level. In the State of the Union Address Obama gave Tennessee and Chicago as examples of how free community college was being made possible for students.

Implementing this on a Federal level will require different standards, but the idea starts on the state level.