NASHVILLE (MCT) – All Tennessee high school graduates could attend two years at a community college free under a proposal presented to the Legislature on Monday by Gov. Bill Haslam in his fourth annual State of the State address.
Haslam christened the proposal as "Tennessee Promise" and said it would operate at no direct expense to taxpayers. About $302 million would be transferred out of Tennessee Education Lottery reserve funds to create an endowment, which would then be used to pay tuition and fees for students enrolling in the program.
"The Tennessee Promise is an ongoing commitment to every student – from every kindergartner to every high school senior," said Haslam in his prepared remarks. "We will promise that he or she can attend two years of community college or a college of applied technology absolutely free.
"If students then choose to go on to a four-year school, our transfer pathways program makes it possible for those students to start as a junior. By getting their first two years free, the cost of a four-year degree is cut in half," he said.
"Tennessee will be the only state in the country to offer our high school graduates two years of community college with no tuition or fees along with the support of dedicated mentors," he said. "We are also proposing last dollar scholarships for all adults – regardless of age or previous qualification for a HOPE scholarship – to attend our TCATs free of charge."
The governor said there would still be $110 million remaining in the lottery reserves, which he believes "a healthy amount" that poses no danger to continuing current lottery scholarships that provide up to $4,000 per year for tuition at four-year colleges and universities.
"Net cost to the state, zero. Net impact on our future, priceless," Haslam said.