During his fourth annual State of the State address before the General Assembly, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam tonight introduced the "Tennessee Promise."
The historic proposal commits to providing on a continuing basis two years of community college or a college of applied technology (TCAT) absolutely free of tuition and fees to graduating high school seniors.
"Through the Tennessee Promise, we are fighting the rising cost of higher education, and we are raising our expectations as a state," Haslam said. "We are committed to making a clear statement to families that education beyond high school is a priority in the state of Tennessee."
After graduating from a community college, if students choose to attend a four-year school, the state's 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 would be cut in half.
"This is a bold promise," Haslam continued. "It is a promise that will speak volumes to current and prospective employers. It is a promise that will make a real difference for generations of Tennesseans, and it is a promise that we have the ability to make. Net cost to the state, zero. Net impact on our future, priceless."
To make the Tennessee Promise sustainable over time, the governor proposed transferring lottery reserve funds to create an endowment, with the goal of strategically redirecting existing resources. He recommended leaving $110 million in the lottery reserve fund to ensure there is a healthy balance moving forward.
The Tennessee Promise is part of Haslam's "Drive to 55" initiative aimed at increasing the number of Tennesseans with a certificate or degree beyond high school. In 11 years, 55 percent of Tennesseans will need a certificate or degree to get a job, but today, only 32 percent of Tennesseans qualify.