Bill Haslam, the governor of Tennessee, has a campaign to enrich his state. He wants 55% or more of Tennesseans to have a college degree or other certificate of secondary education by 2025.
“In Tennessee, we’ve determined that the best jobs plan is an education plan,” Haslam stated. Currently, the percentage of degree-holders hovers around 34%. Tennessee is 42nd in the nation for adults with secondary education, and 40th for the trappings of an “innovative and globalized” economy.
On May 9, 2017, Tennessee lawmakers led by State Representative David Hawk approved a measure to provide free community college to all residents without a degree. It’s a massive leap forward to those goals. The bill includes recent high school graduates, adults who have never attended college, and adults who have been out of school for several years. They would be eligible for up to five years of tuition grants, eligible at any of the state-run community colleges, so long as they maintain a 2.0 GPA.
Tennessee is the first state to make this a state-wide campaign. Earlier this year, San Francisco announced a similar movement for all residents of the city, though that was simply open, not grant-based.
The new program will go into effect in 2018. Until then, students still have access to the existing incentives: the Community College Reconnect Grant, which helps low-income students complete their educations, and the Tennessee Promise Scholarship, which fills gaps in costs not covered by other financial aid.
The new grant, with an estimated budget of about $9 million dollars, will be funded by the interest off a state lottery fund begun in 2003.
“As businesses and industries look to locate or expand… they’re looking for citizens that have some type of post-secondary degree,” said State Rep. Hawk. “This is going to allow us to incentivize our working adults who may not have that higher education degree to go back to school to make themselves more attractive to new business and industry.” All of which makes this a solid investment in the state’s future.