The Tennessee Promise – Hope for a Better Future

Michael Lux News, Student Loan Blog, Student Loans 9 Comments

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
  • 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.

Real Value

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.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Messy Money
Messy Money

I think that this program is great. I hope that people take full advantage of it. It is interesting that there is a community service requirement.

The Student Loan Sherpa
Reply to  Messy Money

It is interesting that you should point that out. Their goal was to get over 20,000 applications before the November 1 deadline. Last I saw they were already over 35k. It looks like it has been hugely popular.

David Corey
David Corey

That’s awesome. I’ve long said that starting at Community College is a great way to save money. Especially if you don’t get into your dream school right away. I started at CC, and transferred easily into The Ohio State University – I’d have never made it competitively as a Freshmen.

The Student Loan Sherpa
Reply to  David Corey

A fellow Buckeye!! You definitely made a wise decision working your way into Ohio State 😉

On a more serious note, I do think you are right on about community colleges. Nobody asks where you went to school your freshman year, they only care about the name on the diploma.


It is a great idea! In California, community college was very inexpensive anyway. You save money and are more prepared for university.

The Student Loan Sherpa
Reply to  krantcents

Exactly. College isn’t for everyone, and a community college is a great way to make sure it is for you without mortgaging your future on student loans.

Money Beagle

Here in Michigan there is a city that offers the same thing, actually I think it’s a full four year degree. The Kalamazoo Promise is funded by some anonymous donors and provides this to residents who establish and maintain residency through the life of their child’s education.

The Student Loan Sherpa
Reply to  Money Beagle

That is amazing. I will definitely be looking into that one.


Great to see this. People could potentially get some momentum in a community college setting, and then transfer on later. Good way to get credits for free. Bigger picture, it’s nice to see not only a recognition of how costs are so high, but also that there are actual steps being taken to alleviate the situation in some small way.