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.

 

Tennessee Promise Proposal Amended In Committee

House and Senate Education Committee members have passed an amended version of the Tennessee Promise Scholarship Act (SB 2471/HB 2491), a cornerstone policy of the Haslam Administration’s ‘Drive to 55’ Initiative that will now head to the House Government Operations Committee and Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee for consideration.

The legislation addresses several lottery-related areas, the most widely reported of which is the creation of a last dollar scholarship for Tennessee students seeking to attend community colleges and technology centers.  After all financial aid and scholarships are utilized (i.e. Pell Grants, HOPE scholarships, etc.), the Tennessee Promise Scholarship would cover students’ remaining costs. The bill also importantly addresses the needs of students at four-year institutions whose academic pursuits go beyond the 120 hours needed for typical degree completion.  Honors students, ROTC cadets, students seeking two majors and those who simply want more from their college experience than the minimum degree requirements have historically been financially discouraged from their pursuits due to the early cutoff of lottery award opportunities.  The Tennessee Promise Scholarship Act seeks to better serve these students by providing them with an open-ended eight semesters of eligibility.

To help fund certain provisions of the bill, changes are proposed to current HOPE Scholarship award amounts.

In the bill’s original form, HOPE Scholarship awards would be altered from $4,000 annually for all eligible students to $3,000 annually for freshmen and sophomores and $5,000 annually for juniors and seniors at eligible four-year higher education institutions.

But the amended version that passed the House Education Committee yesterday differs and considers enrollment concerns that were voiced by a number of higher education stakeholders, including the University of Tennessee System.  The UT System’s concerns have primarily centered on potential enrollment decreases at UT Chattanooga and UT Martin.  The Governor’s office worked proactively with higher education stakeholders on the amendment.

The amended version of the bill seeks to alleviate some concern by altering the HOPE Scholarship award levels to $3,500 annually for freshmen and sophomores and $4,500 annually for juniors and seniors at eligible four-year higher education institutions.

Stay tuned for more developments.

Tennessee Promise Scholarship Legislation Calendared

The House Education Subcommittee will hear The Tennessee Promise Scholarship Act of 2014 (HB2491) on Tuesday afternoon at 3:00 pm CST (Watch live by clicking here).  The Tennessee Promise, part of the Governor’s Drive to 55 Initiative, is a last-dollar scholarship proposal for Tennessee high school graduates seeking to attend a community college or Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT).  You can read more about the Tennessee Promise here.

The University of Tennessee supports this legislation, although some concerns have been voiced regarding enrollment at regional institutions such as UT Martin and UT Chattanooga.  In the House Finance Committee this week, President DiPietro voiced support for the consideration of “safety net” measures for regional four-year institutions who could potentially experience enrollment setbacks due to the migration of students to community colleges or TCATs.

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.