Editorial: Two years of free college? Yes, please

Aug. 20, 2014 @ 06:07 PM

Gov. Bill Haslam has been in campaign mode over the last few days, as he’s sought to recruit high school students to sign up for the state’s Tennessee Promise campaign.

The program, which was signed into law in May and gives every graduating senior in Tennessee the opportunity to attend community or technical college for free, shouldn’t be a hard sell.

According to the College Board, a nonprofit organization that connects students to colleges, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2013–2014 school year was $30,094 at private colleges and $8,893 for state residents at public colleges.

Those numbers alone should have Tennessee students running to the new program.

Tuesday the governor spoke to groups in the Knoxville area about Tennessee Promise, which is an integral part of Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative.

“Tennessee is the only state in the country that makes this two year offer free to all of our high school students,” WBIR reported Haslam as telling students at Gibbs High School.

The Drive to 55 seeks to help equip 55 percent of Tennesseans with a college degree or certificate by 2025.

The goal of the Drive to 55 Alliance — a public-private partnership to promote the governor’s plan — is to “help generate greater private sector awareness, ownership and support for the long-term steps needed in college entry and completion, adult education and training, and identifying and closing skills gaps to better prepare our workforce and our state for the future,” according to the group’s website.

Tennessee Promise is a last-dollar scholarship, the websit for the plan states, meaning it will cover college costs not met from Pell grants, the HOPE Scholarship or the Tennessee Student Assistance Award Program.

As part of the Tennessee Promise, students will be paired with a partnering organization serving their home county and will be provided with a mentor who will support them during the college application process.

Both the Tennessee Promise and Drive for 55 are some lofty goals, but exactly the kind of thing government in this state should be focused on to help improve the lives of Tennesseans for generations to come.

High school seniors interested in the two-year Tennessee Promise program should visit http://driveto55.org/initiatives/tennessee-promise/ to learn more or sign up for the program. Seniors must have applied by Nov. 1 for the 2015 school year.