Haslam’s “Tennessee Promise,” if successful, would provide any graduating high school senior with two years of community college or a college of applied technology, free of tuition or fees.
The inspiration for the program came from the nonprofit Tennessee Achieves, a program founded in 2008 and made successful with the help of former Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale — a Cleveland High School graduate — and local businessman Allan Jones. Haslam also agreed to serve on the organization’s first board of directors.
Like Tennessee Promise, Tennessee Achieves allows graduating high school seniors to attend community college free of charge. Jones made national headlines in 2011 when he partnered with the program to start his “College of Knowledge” at Cleveland State Community College.
The Jones scholarship is available to seniors at all three local high schools — Cleveland High, Bradley Central and Walker Valley.
“My father always told me to give more than my fair share, and I believe anyone who is successful owes it to the community to give back,” Jones said. “I take pride in the fact that the wrestling programs at all three of our high schools have been ranked in the top three in the state and that last year Cleveland set a TSSAA record in the state duals finals by beating runner-up Wilson Central 78-4, setting a record for the most one-sided match in state championship history.”
Jones said he hoped the donation would help local education reach the same heights as the wrestling programs and believed the College of Knowledge program through Tennessee Achieves changes the lives of students and families, and will result in a better-educated and stronger workforce for Cleveland and Bradley County. Tennessee Achieves has sent more than 3,500 high school graduates across the state to college, according to the organization. Of those students, 68 percent are the first in their families to attend college, and more than 65 percent have family incomes below $50,000.
Tennessee Achieves was created by businessman Randy Boyd who has spent the last year serving as Haslam’s Special Advisor on Higher Education. In the role, Boyd focused on affordability, access and quality of state programs.
Although Boyd’s position was full-time, he asked to work on a voluntary, unpaid basis.
Jones credits Boyd with expanding the Tennessee Achieves program to 27 counties.
“What Randy started will now expand to 95 counties under the governor’s plan,” Jones said.
Jones and Boyd discussed the Haslam plan and took pride in the fact that — if the plan is successful — Tennessee will be the first state in the union to offer every citizen a college education without subjecting its citizens to a state income tax.
Boyd is CEO, founder and majority shareholder of Radio Systems, a company headquartered in Knoxville with more than 630 associates in eight countries. The company produces more than 4,000 technology-based pet products under brand names such as Invisible Fence, PetSafe and SportDOG. It is a privately held company with sales exceeding $300 million.
Boyd has received several awards including Ernst and Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year for the Southeast in 2008, Tennessee Business Magazine’s CEO of the Year in 2009, UT’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2009 and was inducted into Junior Achievement’s East Tennessee Hall of Fame in 2008.
Boyd said that while the governor’s plan would be life-changing for Tennessee students, there is still work to be done.
“The first step is getting Tennessee Promise approved by the state government,” Boyd pointed out. “I am urging those who support the plan to get on the phone with your legislators. We have to get this across the finish line.”
Once Tennessee Promise clears the legislative hurdle, the goal will be to recruit as many mentors as possible to help ensure the students are successful.
Jones said the mentors will be key to the program’s success and maintained that his foundation is committed to advertise and recruit mentors in Bradley County.
“We stand behind Gov. Haslam and his efforts to create a better future for Tennessee,” Jones said. “Tennessee Promise will affect not just the students of today, but future generations.”