Viewpoint: ‘Tennessee Promise’ a much needed plan
Feb 14, 2014 | 655 views | 0 0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gov. Bill Haslam recently delivered his fourth “State of the State” address and offered Tennesseans a visionary promise: all Tennessee high school graduates have the opportunity to attend a community college or Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) free of tuition and fees.

Graduates will also be provided a “mentor” to help ensure their success. The program, called Tennessee Promise, is planned to launch with the graduating class of 2015.

Community colleges are focusing more on workforce development than ever before. Certificate and two-year degree programs can often result in obtaining secure employment without the mounting debt many students and families incur at private institutions. Forecasts show that much of our increased workforce demand for the 21st century will require technical, advanced skill sets that community colleges are well prepared to provide.

Roughly 70 percent of first-time freshmen entering Tennessee’s public community college system require remediation in reading, writing and math. Community colleges are equipped and experienced in providing a solid foundation for students to start and complete their course of study.

TCATs and community colleges are relatively cost-effective and Gov. Haslam’s budget proposal would maximize tuition scholarship dollars. Annual tuition at Tennessee community colleges costs, on average, $4,000 compared to $8,000 at four-year schools. In fact, students who earn an associate’s degree and transfer to a four-year university could save up to 50 percent in tuition and fees, according to a Tennessee Promise FAQ sheet.

It is estimated that the cost of the program will be $34 million annually. Gov. Haslam has proposed that funding for Tennessee Promise come from existing resources by interest from the newly established Tennessee Promise endowment along with other modifications to current existing scholarship programs. Some $300 million would be transferred from reserves of the Tennessee Lottery to create an endowment. The endowment will continue to grow as any net Lottery proceeds above the general shortfall reserve are added to the Tennessee Promise endowment.

Community colleges are increasingly becoming an attractive option for many students pursuing post-secondary training. This is true not only for high school graduates, but for non-traditional students pursuing technical degrees or certificates who are looking for flexible hours and lower tuition costs. Technical, targeted cohort programs can often be completed and certificates awarded in as little as seven months. Non-traditional students include single parents, working moms, dads, graduating high school seniors who remain uncertain which career path to pursue, or those students who choose to remain near home.

So now what? More details of the governor’s program will be forthcoming as we move closer to the 2015 goal. One thing is very clear. No more excuses.

A community leader from a bordering county recently shared with me that for many families the cost was still a major impediment to obtaining post-secondary training.

Tennessee Promise helps to eliminate the financial burden that many families and students now experience. This program removes another barrier to improving the standard of living and provides support for students who desire more, but cannot do it on their own.

Recipients of these scholarships will have the opportunity, in many instances for the first time, to break the generational void of obtaining post-secondary education.

No excuses.

In the words of Robert Brault, “Success is a tale of obstacles overcome, and for every obstacle overcome, an excuse not used.”

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(About the writer: Rick Creasman is the director of Workforce Development at Cleveland State Community College.)