Tennessee Promise is graduating its first class of students this spring, The Tennessean reports.
Tennessee Promise is a scholarship program signed into law in 2014 by Gov. Bill Haslam (R). It gives Tennessee high school students the opportunity to attend community college or technical school in the state for free. Once students enter a community college or technical school, they must maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA, maintain a full-time course load, complete the FAFSA, and complete at least eight hours of community service each semester.
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This year brings the program's first cohort of graduates. More than 33,000 students have enrolled in Tennessee Promise since 2015. Of those students, 58% are still in school this spring, compared with 42% of their peers who were not in the program. Many of them plan to graduate this month, but it's too early to know exactly how many will end up graduating because the program allows them two and a half years to finish—which means some students may graduate this December.
Completing college-level coursework posed the biggest challenge for those that dropped out, says Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. He also pointed to overly complicated onboarding processes, which have "too many choices, too many chances to make the wrong choice and really not enough emphasis on the way these students make decisions," he said.
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"There are a lot of reasons for optimism about Tennessee Promise," says Melinda Salaman, a director of strategic research and community college expert at EAB. She points to the higher retention rate of students in the program compared with their peers as an early win.
"However, this also shows us that free community college isn't a silver bullet," Salaman says, adding, "Over 40% of TN Promise students didn't complete, which tells me that the colleges taking part in this kind of program still need to consider how best to support students who are enrolling with academic and non-academic needs, even beyond finances" (Alfs/Tamburin, The Tennessean, 5/6).
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