Governor Bill Haslam and Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick visited Chattanooga State Community College on Wednesday to encourage students, educators and the public to spread the word about recently enacted legislation that will essentially provide two years of free college or technical education to qualifying high school graduates.
Funded by the newly established Tennessee Promise endowment and by changes to the HOPE lottery scholarship, the program provides $34 million in annual education funding.
“We’re the first state in the country to say that if you will graduate from high school we’ll promise you two years of community college or technical school absolutely free. No other state has done that,” said Governor Haslam.
Students must graduate from an eligible Tennessee high school or Tennessee home school program beginning in 2015. Those who obtain GED certificates will not qualify for the program, though they will continue to have other financial assistance options.
The governor explained that tuition costs are one of the foremost barriers that prevent high school graduates from obtaining post-secondary education, and this program should solve that problem.
“Pass that word to students who are now in middle school and high school: You now have a chance to change what your future might look like,” he declared.
“Don’t let the fact that you think you can’t afford college be a barrier.”
Tennessee Promise complements the governor’s Drive to 55 goal that seeks to equip 55 percent of the Tennessee workforce with either an associate’s degree or technical education certificate within the next 10 years. Presently, just 33 percent of the state’s workforce holds that level of education.
Rep. McCormick told the audience that he considers Tennessee Promise as one of the most significant pieces of legislation to ever pass the General Assembly.
“I’m certain that if I could be in the house for 100 years there will not be a bill that’s more important than this bill.“
Tennessee Promise funds will be paid directly to qualified institutions on behalf of eligible registered students. The funds may be used at any of Tennessee’s 27 colleges of applied technology (TCATs), 13 community colleges, or at any in-state independent or public university offering an associate’s degree.
There are numerous requirements that students must meet to qualify and to maintain Tennessee Promise funding, including the performance of at least eight hours community service each semester.
Students must also maintain at least 12 semester hours of coursework each semester with a minimum GPA of 2.0.
Chattanooga State President Dr. Jim Catanzaro listens as Governor Bill Haslam addresses students, faculty and the public.
- Photo2 by Patrick Ohagan