College program shows promise
Friday, May 19, 2017
The Memphis Commercial Appeal
Congratulations are due to the Tennessee Promise program's first graduates, who are raising prospects for a more fulfilling future for themselves and helping to boost Tennessee's national ranking for educational achievement.
The initiative launched by Gov. Bill Haslam two years ago, which admits recent high school graduates to community or technical college free of charge, attracted criticism in the beginning for a commensurate reduction in the value of the HOPE scholarship, another state lottery-funded scholarship program, during its early stages.
Time will tell what the net effect of that trade-off will be, but in Memphis, for example, something needed to be done to help fill vacant high-wage positions that require technical skills that can be acquired in community and technical colleges.
And it's safe to assume that some of the people filling those positions never would have advanced beyond high school without the encouragement that Tennessee Promise provides.
Haslam was in Memphis on Saturday to give the commencement address to the first group of Southwest Tennessee Community College students graduating through Promise and Tennessee Reconnect, a no-tuition program for students who are older with some previous college experience.
Both programs could turn out to be instrumental in meeting the goal of Haslam's Drive to 55 initiative, an effort to raise the percentage of Tennessee residents with some type of post-secondary degree or work certificate from 37 percent to 55 percent.
Another benefit: The program has raised Tennessee's profile on the national stage as a state with new ideas about education.
Promise was held out as a model for other states to follow during a recent conference call hosted by Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and Haslam.
A glance at the data on Tennessee Promise students seems discouraging on the surface. Of the 1,300-plus students at Southwest who started Promise two years ago, only 63 were still in the program and earned diplomas this semester.
That figure, however, doesn't include students who failed to qualify for the scholarship at some point beyond their first semester, students who qualify but haven't met graduation requirements or students transferring to another school with credits earned while they were on the Promise scholarship.
And it is hard to measure, but there can be little argument that Tennessee Promise has the potential to change the state's culture, giving more Tennesseans the economic and intangible benefits that follow an academic pursuit of two to four years or beyond.