Emily - Tennessee Promise

Two red lights. That’s how small Emily Buckner’s hometown in Gainesboro, Tennessee is. At the time of the 2010 census, there were 962 people living in this small, southern town. When she was a child and college seemed so far away, the message of attending Tennessee Tech (the local four-year school) was reinforced again and again due to her community’s social norms. But Emily wasn’t so sure she was going to follow a traditional path.

Attending college was always a part of her plan, but she needed to figure out how she was going to pay for it. She didn’t have a college fund to tap into when she turned 18 like many of her friends. Her parents went through the economic downfall and were laid off within two months of each other. When her high school teachers referred her to the Tennessee Promise Program, she jumped at the opportunity and applied.

After she was accepted into the Promise Program, Emily enrolled in Volunteer State Community College in Cookeville, Tennessee. If not for the program and the free tuition, she would have been stressed about how to pay for school and would not have been able to focus on her classes. She could instead focus on other things, like student government and networking with professors. She even had the time and money to study abroad in Ireland! 

Without the program, Emily would likely have gone on to Tennessee Tech straight out of school like many of her classmates. She’s not sure how she would have fared without financial resources. Without academic scholarships, she likely would be in debt and unable to afford to continue her education. And, she had the added benefit of “figuring out what I liked and not be shoved into reality.” 

Now, she has money in her savings account thanks to the program.

Emily noted that what people don’t realize is the professors at community college often teach the same classes at the local four-year school. That’s the case with Volunteer State and Tennessee Tech.

Emily received an Associate’s Degree in University Studies of Sciences from Volunteer State Community College. She is now at Tennessee Tech where she will receive her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration in 2020. She wants to travel and study abroad again.

“Tennessee Promise gave me a start in life,” says Emily.     

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The Campaign for Free College Tuition is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization established in the State of Washington in 2014 to educate parents, students, the higher education community, policy makers and taxpayers about efforts needed to fundamentally reform our nation’s system for financing higher education. This website and CFCT’s educational outreach activities are made possible through generous individual and foundation support.