After six years of paying the tuition for any local high school senior who wanted to attend college free of charge, Cleveland, Tn., businessman Allan Jones is finally turning over the responsibility to Gov. Bill Haslam’s Tennessee Promise.
The Jones Foundation sent its final check this week to Cleveland State Community College to cover the cost of a commitment he began in 2011 that was hailed as a “landmark” by local educators at the time.
The “Allan Jones College of Knowledge” scholarship was the first major endorsement of TN Achieves – a program created by Tennessee businessman Randy Boyd, who is currently Tennessee’s Commissioner of Economic and Community Development.
The scholarship assured any graduating public high school senior at Bradley Central, Cleveland High or Walker Valley High could attend Cleveland State at no cost.
“We accomplished our goal of giving every student in Bradley County the chance to attend college without worrying about the cost,” said Mr.
Jones, founder of Check Into Cash, Buy Here Pay Here USA, U.S. Money Shops and a handful of other successful companies. "This is the first donation in my life that I had no idea where the zeroes would end – but now they have finally ended thanks to Governor Haslam and Tennessee Promise.”
Governor Haslam’s program provides any graduating high school senior with two years of community college and has strong ties to the Jones scholarship and TN Achieves, it was stated.
“I am proud that Tennessee is the first state in the country to have free community college tuition for our students, “ Mr.Jones said.
He was critical of President Obama, who came to Knoxville in 2015 to promote a scholarship program called “America’s College Promise” that was modeled after TN Achieves.
“I was disappointed that Obama didn’t even mention Randy because TN Achieves was his brainchild,” said Mr. Jones. “All of the students who went to college for free all these years – and everyone who gets to go for free in the future – all of this happened because of Randy’s hard work.”
TN Achieves says that since the Jones scholarship began in 2011, 657 students have attended Cleveland State. The price tag to the Jones Foundation was around $839,500.
Mr. Jones noted that the Cleveland and Bradley wrestling programs are consistently ranked No. 1 and 2 in Tennessee – with up-and-coming Walker Valley not far behind. He said his scholarship program was intended to help local education reach the same heights.
Mr. Jones, who has been called the biggest supporter of high school wrestling in the nation, learned earlier this week that he is slated to receive the National Wrestling Hall of Fame’s “Outstanding American” award in August.
Dr. Bill Seymour, president of Cleveland State Community College, said the Jones scholarship gave vital help to students who otherwise would have struggled to pay for a college education.
“Our special mission at Cleveland State is to provide a quality, affordable education to everyone in our community,” Dr. Seymour said. “The Jones scholarship enhanced that mission by eliminating cost as a roadblock.”
In 2015, Mr. Jones received the Excellence in Philanthropy award from the Tennessee Board of Regents for his generous donations and his outstanding volunteer efforts in raising funds for Cleveland State.
Mr. Jones, who was named an Outstanding American by the Tennessee chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame for his support of wrestling through the years, was awarded an honorary degree from Cleveland State in 2015 - the first and only such degree that college has ever awarded.
“My father, W. A. "Bill" Jones, worked hard in 1964 and 1965 to have Cleveland designated as the site for a new state community college over Athens and Dayton that opened in 1967,” said Mr. Jones. “The College of Knowledge has been my proudest donation.”