Tennessee Promise Passes House, Heads to Governor’s Desk

The Tennessee Promise Scholarship Act of 2014 was passed by the House of Representatives last night on an 87-8 vote.  Members voting no included Representatives Joe Carr (R-Lascassas), Glen Casada (R-Franklin), Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin), Andy Holt (R-Dresden), Judd Matheny (R-Tullahoma), Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), Billy Spivey (R-Lewisburg), and Rick Womick (R-Rockvale).

The legislation passed in the Senate earlier this week and now heads to the Governor’s desk, his signature being the final step in the lawmaking process.

The Tennessee Promise is a key component of Governor Haslam’s Drive to 55 Initiative, the goal of which is raising higher education attainment from the current level of 32 percent to 55 percent by the year 2025.  The Promise Scholarship will serve as a “last dollar” award, to be applied after all other scholarships and financial aid towards the cost of tuition and fees for first-time Tennessee freshman students pursuing an associates degree or technical certificate.

But the legislation also includes provisions aimed specifically at helping students at four-year universities.

Currently, HOPE scholarship eligibility is capped at 120 attempted semester hours or when a degree is earned, whichever of the two comes first.  If a student attempts 120 hours, yet still hasn’t attained a degree, their eligibility for the HOPE ceases.

The Tennessee Promise legislation changes this.  The legislation allows students to remain eligible for the HOPE scholarship for 8 full semesters (taking as many hours as they wish within that period), or to use the standard 120 semester hour cap.  In short, students will receive more flexibility in retaining their scholarships.

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 receive $4,500 annually.

Tennessee Promise Scholarship Sails Through Senate

Driveto55VerticalLogoThe 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.

 

House Finance Committee Hears Higher Ed Budgets

The University of Tennessee completed its final budget hearing this week before the House Finance, Ways, and Means Committee.  The University of Tennessee presented alongside the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, Tennessee Board of Regents, and the Tennessee Foreign Language Institute.

Some interesting facts from the hearing include:

  • UT ​Knoxville produces more undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees than any other institute in the state.
  • UT Martin and UT Chattanooga have both increased their degree production this year.
  • Over half of the students at UT Knoxville have zero debt when they graduate.  (Overall, student debt has dropped 7.8 percent at UT undergraduate campuses over the last five years).

Tuition rates and future increases received considerable discussion at the hearing. “No one likes to raise tuition, but the reality of keeping [the UT system] moving in the right direction…necessitates resources,” DiPietro stated.

The Tennessee Higher Education Commission recommended a 2-4 percent tuition increase earlier this year, a recommendation hinged on the expectation of full funding of the Complete College Tennessee Act (CCTA) outcomes formula.  Due to a difficult budget year for the state, the outcomes formula is funded at less than a third of THEC’s recommendation in the Governor’s FY15 budget proposal.

Although tuition is expected to increase, “it is a goal of the University of Tennessee System to stay within the single digit range,” DiPietro stated.

President Joe DiPietro also expressed support of the Governor’s “Drive to 55″ Initiative during the hearing.  The University of Tennessee System supports increasing access to post-secondary education, a critical component of the Governor’s plan.

When specifically asked about the Tennessee Promise, DiPietro called the proposal “a big bold program with a lot of merit.”  The Tennessee Promise is a last-dollar scholarship proposal for Tennessee high school graduates seeking to attend a community college or Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT).

DiPietro also expressed the importance of considering a “safety net” for regional institutions like UT Martin and UT Chattanooga, who could potentially experience enrollment setbacks due to the migration of students to community colleges or TCATs.

Governor Bill Haslam Launches Drive to 55 Initiative

Driveto55HorizontalLogoGovernor Bill Haslam today officially launched his ‘Drive to 55′ Initiative, the goal of which is to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with a post-secondary credential in order to meet Tennessee’s current and future workforce and economic needs. A broad assemblage of higher education and business stakeholders as well as members of the Tennessee General Assembly attended the launch.

“We want Tennesseans working in Tennessee jobs. We want Tennesseans to have an opportunity to get a good job and for those in the workplace to be able to advance and get an even better job,” Haslam said. “Currently in Tennessee, only 32 percent of us have a certificate or degree beyond high school, and studies show that by the year 2025 that number needs to be at least 55 percent for us to keep up with job demand. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

The governor outlined Tennessee’s current situation including:

· Nearly 70 percent of Tennessee students entering community college need remedial classes before they can take college level courses;

· More than 20,000 Tennessee high school graduates choose not to continue their education each year.

· There are approximately 940,000 adult Tennesseans that have some college credit but haven’t earned an associate or four-year degree.

· On the state’s current path, Tennessee is projected to reach 39 percent of citizens with a certificate or degree beyond high school by the year 2025. To reach 55 percent would be 494,000 more people.

· Tennessee is 20 percent below the national average in terms of degree attainment.

Among other speakers, the governor’s special advisor for Higher Education, Randy Boyd,  gave an update on the progress made to date on the ‘Drive to 55′ initiative including:

· $16.5 million in this year’s budget for equipment and technology related to workforce development programs at Tennessee colleges of applied technology and community colleges, which institutions will begin receiving in the coming weeks.

· Launch of WGU Tennessee – an online, competency-based university aimed at the 940,000 adult Tennesseans that have some college credit but didn’t graduate with an associate or four-year degree.

· Newly created endowment of $47 million using operational reserve funds from the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC) to provide nearly $2 million each year to support scholarships for “last dollar” scholarship programs such as tnAchieves. These scholarships fill the gaps between students’ financial aid and the real costs of college including books, supplies, room and board.

· Launching the SAILS program, Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support, to give students who need extra support in math attention during their senior year in high school so they can avoid remediation when they enter college.

· Legislation sponsored by Majority Leaders Mark Norris and Gerald McCormick to create the Labor Education Alignment Program – or LEAP – to better coordinate key stakeholders on the state and local level to address workforce readiness.

· And new online learning innovations in Tennessee through partnerships with edX and Coursera.

Haslam appointed Boyd to the position in January, and he has consulted with a formal working group made up of the governor, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR), and president of the University of Tennessee.

In his presentation, Boyd also placed emphasis on the importance of dual enrollment and other high school pre-college programs, a topic many legislators have been avid to address next session. Boyd stressed that a successful effort to reach 55 percent degree attainment will require the state to focus on more than two and four-year degrees.  An increasing emphasis will be placed on certificates at technology centers and community colleges.

The governor will be traveling the state in the coming weeks to further discuss Tennessee’s workforce development needs and the ‘Drive to 55′ Initiative.

Click here for more information.