Tennessee's Task: Turn "Free Community College" From a Rallying Cry to Success

Posted by Wyatt Larkin on February 27, 2015 at 7:55 AM

This is an excerpt from a post by Eric Kelderman and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Read the full story here.

Amanda Raven Smith wants to go to college. But she doesn’t want to have the same experience as her father, who spent decades paying off student loans for a degree he couldn’t afford to finish.
"I had been planning on it," she said, "but didn’t have a way to do the funding."

So on a Thursday evening in January, Ms. Smith, a senior at Columbia Central High School, in Maury County, Tenn., was one of some 600 students who attended a meeting at the school. The objective: to learn about the Tennessee Promise, the program guaranteeing that the state will cover tuition and required fees for two years of community or technical college for Ms. Smith and every other graduating high-school senior in the state.

The meeting here in Columbia, the seat of Maury County, was one of more than 300 events held last month to explain the ins and outs of a program that has become a phenomenon across the state. Nearly 90 percent of high-school seniors in Tennessee applied, and more than 9,000 adults have volunteered to serve as mentors for those applicants.

It’s a large-scale experiment, and higher-education experts and policy makers across the nation will be watching to see if the lure of tuition-free college attracts students—and keeps them in college long enough to complete a degree or vocational program.

The early results are encouraging, but they’re far from a guarantee of success. While two-year colleges are bracing for enrollment increases, more students in classrooms won’t necessarily translate into an increase in college completions—the real goal of the Promise.

If enrollments increase too much, community colleges may struggle with the cost of adding enough instructors. An influx of students who are unprepared for the rigors of college learning may lead to more dropouts along the way. And some students still may not have enough financial support to attend full time (a requirement of the program) without working, hampering their academic progress.

 

Read the rest of this article here.

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