Community colleges across Tennessee are starting the academic year with a higher-than-usual number of students. That’s because of a first-year program called Tennessee Promise, an initiative that provides new high school graduates two years of tuition-free attendance at community and technical colleges in the state.
Richard Briley is one of the new faces at Nashville State Community College. The future business major says that without Tennessee Promise he would have probably enrolled at a four-year school and taken on a lot of debt.
“I’d probably be going to TSU, Tennessee State University, but I would have to take out a loan," explained Briley.
On the first day of classes, Briley and other students got to meet one of the architects of Tennessee Promise, Governor Bill Haslam.
"Just out of curiosity, how many of you are the first person in your family to get to go to college," asked Haslam.
Half of the students in the room raised their hands.
"At this point in time, if I said what will keep you from walking across the stage and getting a two or four-year degree, what are you most worried will stop that from happening," Haslam asked.
The resounding answer was money.
Tennessee Promise is the first statewide program of its kind in the nation. About 16,000 students are attending the state’s 13 community colleges, about a ten percent jump over last fall, according to Tennessee Promise Executive Director Mike Krause.