In his fourth State of the State speech Monday, Gov. Bill Haslam unveiled his Tennessee Promise plan to offer qualified students free tuition to state community and technical colleges. “This is a bold promise,” he told this newspaper’s Editorial Board a day later, and one that could “speak volumes” to companies wishing to come to our state.
Specifically, Tennessee Promise would cover two free years of tuition and fees for graduating high school seniors who wish to attend one of those state institutions. The governor said the new program is also a promise to deliver on “Drive to 55,” an initiative he announced last year aimed at seeing that 55 percent of Tennessee residents earn a post-secondary degree by 2025.
Haslam has promised the free tuition would be funded by taking roughly $300 million from lottery reserves to create an endowment. The governor says Tennessee Promise, which he believes is the first state program of its kind in the nation, will better prepare students for a college education. Currently, he says, 70 percent of students entering college in Tennessee are in need of some sort of remedial help.
The governor says Tennessee Promise will help fight the rising costs of higher education, while raising the bar for students and state institutions alike. Haslam promises the free tuition will help see Tennessee students not only enroll in college, but stay and earn a degree.
The governor has made a number of promises regarding Tennessee Promise, and we believe they are practical and achievable, but there are other promises we mustn’t forget as we move forward with this program.
One of these promises from the state is to fund lottery-backed scholarships for qualified students who wish to attend a four-year institution. Haslam said the use of lottery reserves shouldn’t be a problem since $110 million will remain. We don’t doubt his arithmetic in this matter, but it would be beneficial for the public to hear the governor and lottery officials explain why the reserves won’t be impacted in the future.
It’s important the state keeps all the promises it has made — yesterday and today — to college students.