Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today held a ceremonial bill signing at Tutco, Inc. in Cookeville for HB 2491/SB2471, the "Tennessee Promise."
The historic proposal, which was approved overwhelmingly by the General Assembly, commits to providing two years of community college or a college of applied technology (TCAT) absolutely free of tuition and fees to graduating high school seniors on a continuing basis.
"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.
"This is a bold promise," Haslam continued. "It is a promise that speaks volumes to current and prospective employers, and it is a promise that will make a real difference for generations of Tennesseans."
Participating students must: graduate from high school; agree to work with a mentor; complete eight hours of community service; and maintain a 2.0 GPA during their two years at a community college or TCAT.
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.
The Tennessee Promise is not funded through taxpayer dollars. Excess lottery reserve funds are being used to create an endowment to strategically redirect existing resources and to keep the program sustainable over time.
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.
Two years ago Haslam convened post-secondary education leaders from across the state along with statewide business organizations at the Tennessee Residence to discuss the importance of a comprehensive and coordinated focus on the issues of affordability, the quality of our Tennessee colleges, universities and technology centers, and how to do a better job of matching the skills state institutions are teaching with the needs of employers.
He followed that meeting with a series of seven roundtables around the state with employers, including Tutco, Inc., and educators to discuss how to better link post-secondary education to high-quality jobs.
A concentrated focus on post-secondary education issues resulted in the governor's Drive to 55 initiatives that he has introduced over the past year, including the Tennessee Promise.
The Tennessee Promise legislation was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga).