“Complete to Compete” Passes Senate Education; Expected to be Heard Next Week in the House Administration & Planning Committee

Students walking on the UTK campus

Consideration of the Haslam Administration’s “Complete to Compete” initiative, aimed at ensuring HOPE scholarship and Tennessee Promise recipients remain on track for timely graduation, was heard this week in the Senate Education Committee and was rolled for one week in the House Administration & Planning Committee. The initiative passed, with an amendment, in the Senate Education Committee.

The initiative would require students receiving the Tennessee Promise or HOPE scholarships to complete a minimum of 30 credit hours in a 12-month period or receive a $250 reduction in award aid. Currently, to be a “full-time” student, students are required to take a minimum of 12 credit hours per semester. However, in recent years, UT campuses have encouraged, but not required, students to take 15 credit hours per semester to better enable a path to a bachelor’s degree within four years.

During the Senate hearing, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville), proposed an amendment to exempt students with documented learning disabilities, students whose degree programs require less than 30 hours in a three-consecutive-semester period, semesters in which a student needed to take a leave of absence, and semesters in which students participate in cooperative education programs or internships while also adding a “hold harmless” provision for certain students. The “hold harmless” provision allows students to submit an appeal to the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC) if the student was unable to complete 30 credit hours in three-consecutive-semesters due to an extenuating circumstance.  Specific rules related to what constitutes an “extenuating circumstance” will be promulgated by TSAC.

The amendment was put on the bill by a unanimous vote. Several of these exemptions were requested by the University of Tennessee.

Conversation on the bill as amended centered around the appeals process and the reduction in aid due to not completing the 30-in-12 benchmark.

Sen. Steven Dickerson (R-Nashville) also introduced an amendment, which was backed by the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association (TICUA), to exempt four-year universities from the entire bill, making it only applicable to community colleges. The amendment ultimately failed due to a tied 4-4 vote.

The University of Tennessee is deferred to the will of the legislature on the issue.

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