“Tennessee Promise” Getting Results

Students using Tennessee’s free community college scholarships are significantly more likely to succeed in college than their peers outside the program, according to data released recently, as reported by Adam Tamburin, in USA Today.

Fifty-six percent of Tennessee Promise students who entered college in 2015, the program’s first year, had graduated, transferred to a four-year university or remained in school two years later. Only 39 percent of recent high school graduates outside of Tennessee Promise had done the same—a difference of 17 percentage points, the article states.

More from the piece:

The data, part of a wide-ranging analysis done by the state’s community college system, the Tennessee Board of Regents, provide the clearest picture yet of the landmark program.

Proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam in 2014, the program was the first in the nation to offer almost every graduating high school senior in a state the chance to go to college tuition-free.

For background on the Promise program, here is a good segment from PBS Newshour.

It’s interesting that many states experimenting with free or near-free tuition are in conservative Republican territory. (Which could include Texas if the idea catches on, thanks to Tennessee.) Conservatives often see free tuition as an opportunity for economic development, not merely a social program to help needy students. Consequently, business groups often favor such programs as companies seek highly trained employees. These groups often have much influence on conservative lawmakers.

However, New York is also a state where free tuition is now available, and through the university level. So this issue apparently cuts across the current partisan divide.

It may be too soon for policy makers to jump all over the idea of free tuition. After all it’s expensive. Faculty members often wonder if students need skin in the game, in the form of financial sacrifice, to keep them on track. However, just because tuition is free, going to college is still expensive due to textbooks, supplies, and living expenses. There is plenty of sacrifice going on in Tennessee.