Earlier this year, Tennessee became the first State to offer higher education free of charge to it’s residents. The Tennessee Promise is simple. In the words of Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam to the Class of 2015, “You now have the opportunity to attend two years of community or technical college completely tuition-free when you graduate from high school.”
The requirements of the program are simple. Any current high school senior in Tennessee needs to do the following:
- Apply to the program by November 1, 2014.
- File the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by February 15, 2015 at www.fafsa.gov.
- Complete FAFSA verification, if required by the student’s institution, by August 1, 2015.
- Complete 8 hours of community service for each semester they receive Tennessee Promise funding, to be completed before the start of each term.
- Apply to and enroll in an eligible institution. Some partnering organizations may ask students to apply to an eligible college program by February 15, 2015. Though this deadline is not an official requirement, it is highly encouraged.
Any student who is interested can get further information and apply here.
A Reason for Hope
With the growth of student loan debt in the United States, there has been much debate over the best way to address this debt and to reduce it for future students.
One of the chief benefits and problems with federal government student loans is that they are easy to get. The goal behind easy access to student loans is a simple one – every american should have access to higher education. The unintended consequence of this program has been huge growth in tuition prices. With the money so easy to get, universities can raise prices without fear of losing students. This has gone on for decades.
The problem with changing our current student loan programs is that it could limit college opportunities for many students. Finding a plane that balances the need for reasonable prices without closing doors has proven to be challenging.
The exciting part about the Tennessee promise is that it has a real chance to make a difference for thousands of college students. In fact, it could help students who do not even enroll in the program.
New college students in Tennessee now have the option of attending over 40 schools for free. Non-participating state schools, private schools, and for-profit schools now have new competition in the education marketplace. If they want new students they will have to convince them that they are worth spending thousands of extra dollars. These schools may have to drop their prices to compete with each other and with the free community colleges and technical schools. This would be a huge win for residents of Tennessee.
What about everyone else?
Obviously this program only directly affects residents of Tennessee, however it has the potential to make a national impact.
One of the reasons that State governments are given so much independence from the Federal government is because the founding fathers viewed them as “laboratories of democracy”. If this experiment is successful in Tennessee, many other States could follow suit.
Tennessee currently has 32% of its residents with a college education. The goal of the Tennessee Promise is to get that number up to 55%. Should the program achieve it’s lofty objective, Tennessee will have a huge advantage over other states when it comes to recruiting business. Other States could be forced to adopt a similar program.
The Bottom Line
The Tennessee Promise could be the beginning of a monumental shift in higher education funding in the United States. At the very least, many Tennessee residents will have excellent higher education opportunities. Down the road, many other Americans might be afforded similar opportunities.