Free Community College for Tennessee Students?

Free Community College for Tennessee Students?
  • Opening Intro -

    A handful of states provide free community college to some students with the provision that they graduate from high school with high grades.

    In Tennessee, high school students regardless of grade point average may be admitted to the Volunteer State's community colleges for free if a proposal from Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam gains approval and becomes law.


Haslam outlined his proposal to the state’s assembly last week, proposing to dedicate $300 million from the state’s lottery fund to pay for the initiative.

Drive to 55

Under Halsam’s proposal, students would not pay tuition or fees as they pursue their community college education. It would be part of a proposed “Drive to 55” effort to ensure that at least 55 percent of the Tennessee’s residents have an advanced credential. That credential can include a certificate, an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree or beyond. Like other lawmakers, Gov. Halsam wants Tennesseans to be equipped to meet an ever evolving economy, one that competes on a global scale.

As of 2014, only 32 percent of Tennesseans between ages 25 and 64 have at least an associate degree. That number is toward the lower end of the spectrum and below the 38.7 percent average for all Americans. Should Tennessee achieve the 55 percent level, that would move the state into first place, ahead of Massachusetts’ 50.8 percent rate.

Facility Upgrades

The governor also proposed spending tens of millions of dollars on new facilities to be located at community colleges across his state. Another $300,000 would be dedicated toward creating a new system to find and recruit Tennesseans who would be interested in returning to college and finishing their degrees. Right now, there are nearly 1 million Tennesseans who have at least some college credit, but don’t have a degree.

More than 8.3 million people are currently enrolled in community colleges across the country — 3.3 million attend full time, the rest attend part time. Community college costs are the lowest among all higher education options, but even then it is an expense that is simply too much for some people to handle. Two-year schools are also a steppingstone to four-year colleges and other educational opportunities.

Grant Money Too

Haslam, a Republican, has received favorable feedback from the legislature for his proposal and the actual cost is expected to come in at $34 million per year. Many students qualify for Pell grants and other aid, money that is used for tuition, fees, and books. Thus, students would find that the state will pay for their tuition and fees while their remaining costs would be covered by grants.

If Tennessee’s legislature adopts the measure, they’ll be in a position once held by the state of California: free tuition for junior college students. Alas, the Golden State no longer has the resources to cover its students although its tuition costs remain low.

See Also — Community College Enrollment Made Easy


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Categories: Campus News