Mentors are cited as state program difference-maker

By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG christy.armstrong@clevelandbanner.com
Posted 5/24/17

The statewide Tennessee Promise scholarship program is seeing some pretty good results, officials say.

Leaders with tnAchieves, the organization which facilitates the program in much of the …

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Mentors are cited as state program difference-maker

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The statewide Tennessee Promise scholarship program is seeing some pretty good results, officials say.

Leaders with tnAchieves, the organization which facilitates the program in much of the state, visited Cleveland State Community College Tuesday to give an update.

Krissy DeAlejandro, tnAchieve’s executive director, and Graham Thomas, deputy director of engagement and partnerships, shared the secret to their success.

“We could not be having the success that we have without our mentor program,” DeAlejandro said.

The Tennessee Promise scholarship is a last-dollar scholarship that covers tuition for students with tuition at the state’s community colleges, Colleges of Applied Technology and select four-year colleges which offer two-year programs.

In exchange for the scholarship money, students take part in community service each semester. Each student is also paired with a mentor who reminds him or her of deadlines and can answer questions about the college experience.

The tnAchieves organization facilitates this by registering students and mentors for the Tennessee Promise program and helping them as they navigate the program’s requirements.

DeAlejandro praised Bradley County for having a good number of students participating in the program.

There were 668 Bradley County students from the high school Class of 2015 who enrolled in college as part of the first Tennessee Promise class in Fall 2015. Of those, 468 returned to college for their second year.

That amounts to about a 70 percent retention rate, which DeAlejandro said is “very good.” She added there is also a 70 percent retention rate statewide.

The introduction of the Tennessee Promise scholarship program has also increased the rate of students going to college by 4.6 percent statewide.

Bradley County also saw a 3 percent increase, which DeAlejandro said is actually better than expected. Because a similar program called BradleyAchieves existed before tnAchieves began working with local students, they did not anticipate much of an increase.

She credits the introduction of the Tennessee Promise scholarship with changing how students feel about going to college.

“Everyone in Tennessee now talks about where — not if — they are going to college,” DeAlejandro said.

Because students in the program have been doing community service, she explained the program is also having an effect on the students’ communities.

As of this April, students statewide have given a million hours of service to their communities. Students in Bradley County have given 15,667 hours of community service so far.

Numbers like these are getting the attention of officials all over the country, DeAlejandro said.

While she noted other state governments have launched last-dollar scholarship programs for students, DeAlejandro noted Tennessee has a “secret weapon” — mentors.

Mentors with tnAchieves are adults 21 and older who remind students of deadlines and make themselves available to answer students’ questions.

These volunteers spend “about an hour a month” working with students, but Thomas stressed the small time commitment can be “really impactful.” 

“They are a big difference-maker for students,” Thomas said.

He explained some of the students taking advantage of Tennessee Promise are first-generation college students, making the support all the more valuable.

Mentors are now being recruited to help students graduating from high school as part of the Class of 2018.

Thomas said an estimated 9,000 mentors statewide are needed to work with the next class. Some 180 volunteers are expected to be needed in Bradley County alone.

For more information or to sign up, visit https://tnachieves.org/.

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