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Tennessee governor claims Promise program is working

December 5, 2014

You’ve likely read about the Tennessee Promise before – it’s the state’s radical new program to help subsidize the cost of higher education and continue to bring degrees to a larger and larger percentage of the state’s population. The program, which was only started this year, just got its first real checkup, and things are looking good.

This week, a summit hosted by Michelle and President Barack Obama brought together over 140 college and university presidents and other leaders in the state’s education system. The conference, called a College Opportunity Day, is part of a larger campaign in which the president and the first lady are attempting to promote higher rates of education enrollment in low income areas of the country.

At the conference, Tennessee governor Bill Haslam got a chance to weigh in on how the program had been performing thus far. He happily announced that, of the state’s 65,000 high school seniors, 56,000 had applied for scholarships through the program. This benchmark has to be a satisfying one for the Governor, who led the relatively unprecedented program into existence just earlier this year.

The program is meant to pay for two full years of community college or technical school for successful applicants. To keep students on track, tutors will check in regularly on progress and make sure that participants are able to keep up with their workload, are getting the resources they need, and are continuing to be motivated to finish out their programs.

Obama made an address during the event. He said that while the education opportunities in the US are still exceptional and attract applicants from all over the world, access for those at home hasn’t been getting much better in recent years. Student loan debt in the United States is crippling for many graduates, especially if they’re not graduating into the current job market. While many countries offer various ways that students can defer repayments, most of their loans are directly from the government and private companies aren’t given the option to aggressively collect. In some places, tuition is completely free at universities. While we’re far from a world where everyone goes to college for free, programs like the Tennessee Promise are a step in that direction, especially for people that don’t live in areas with traditionally high college attendance.

More than the tuition payments, however, the mentors are the element of the program that its proponents seem to be most proud of. The mentor system is interesting because the hope is that it will try to address the root cause of some of the aversions to higher education in the first place. While cost may be an initial barrier, students from families without a background in higher education may find the experience overwhelming. In short, mentors address mental reservations in the same way that the tuition payment program addresses financial ones; a nice pair.

Individual college representatives also gave speeches at the event, with many sharing the ways in which they were making accommodations for the expected increase in student volume and subsequent needs.