The Tennessee Promise Scholarship Act of 2014 passed the state Senate last night by a 30-1 vote. The Promise, a key component of Governor Haslam’s Drive to 55 Initiative, will be used to provide “last dollar” scholarship awards (after all other scholarships and financial aid are applied) towards the cost of tuition and fees for first-time Tennessee freshman students pursuing an associates degree or technical certificate.
The legislation also has provisions aimed specifically at university students. A couple of years ago, the legislature adopted changes to the HOPE Lottery Scholarship program that would allow students to receive their awards for the summer terms in addition to the traditional Fall and Spring semesters. When the change was implemented, modifications were made to the terminating events for the Lottery Scholarship. Rather than students being eligible for a full five years, the award was capped at 120 attempted semester hours or when a degree was earned, whichever of the two came first.
The Tennessee Promise legislation contains a significant change to current law surrounding HOPE Scholarships: The change will allow students to take advantage of 8 full semesters of HOPE eligibility (taking as many hours as they wish within that period) or to use the standard 120 semester hour cap. Students will retain their scholarship for eight semesters or 120 semester hours, whichever occurs last.
As with most policy changes, the change in HOPE Scholarship terminating events comes with a price tag. To cover the cost of making this change, The Tennessee Promise legislation changes HOPE Scholarship award amounts.
At four-year universities, freshmen and sophomores eligible for the HOPE award will receive $3,500 annually. HOPE eligible juniors and seniors will see an increase in their current award amount to $4,500 annually.
The Tennessee Promise has not yet come up for a vote on the House floor. It is expected to be heard in the coming days as lawmakers wrap up the legislative session.