Tennessee Promise: A great education for free

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In 2014 Governor Bill Haslam signed Tennessee Promise Legislation into law. This legislation received overwhelming support in the Tennessee Congress. The law granted two free years of community college or technical education to all new high school graduates or students who had earned a GED before their 19th birthday. However there are a few requirements one must meet in order to keep their scholarship. Students must maintain a GPA of at least 2.0, serve eight hours of community service per semester, and be advised by a mentor. Students can attend any one of 13 community colleges or 27 colleges of applied technology throughout the state. The program was funded by transferring $312 million in reserves from the Tennessee Lottery-funded Hope Scholarship. Tennessee became the first state to offer two free years of community college to graduating high school students.

I was fortunate enough to graduate from First Assembly Christian School in 2015, the first year that Tennessee Promise existed. During my two years of study at Southwest Tennessee Community College, my knowledge of the liberal arts and sciences increased. I became a better student. In high school I did not work as hard as I could have. In college I developed a love for learning. I looked forward to attending classes, and even classes that I did not think would be useful I found to beneficial.

My professors encouraged discussion. They welcomed my questions and input. One of my favorite classes was American government. In this class we discussed current political issues such as the election of Donald Trump, immigration and health care. I voiced my views. I argued in favor of a border wall to limit illegal immigration. I also argued against socialized medicine. Near the end of the semester a fellow student thanked me for speaking in class. She told me that she learned from me. It felt really good to be told that.

In my last semester I took a photography class. I learned how to take wonderful pictures. The best part of the class is that we went to Greece for nine days at the end of the semester. Due to scholarships I was able to attend this trip for an extremely low cost. Our group visited Athens and Corinth. We also took a boat trip to various islands. The hotel we stayed at provided complimentary breakfast and dinner. This trip was an excellent experience for me. Southwest Tennessee Community College offers several study aboard programs each year.

During the summer of 2018, after I graduated, I wrote a letter to then-governor Bill Haslam. I told him how much the program meant to me and my family. I told him that I received a wonderful education with no student debt. On July 16, 2018, I received a personal letter back from Governor Haslam. He wrote, “I am sharing your letter with members of my staff and administrators at the Tennessee Higher Education Commission who have worked tirelessly to implement this initiative, which has helped thousands of students like yourself broaden their educational horizons.”

Since I had a great grade point average upon graduating, I received multiple scholarships to attend Mississippi University for Women (The W) in Columbus, Miss. In 2019 I graduated with a degree in political science from The W. The education I received from Southwest was comparable to the education I received at The W. I encourage every Tennessean high school graduate to take advantage of Tennessee Promise. You will receive a great education, have the opportunity to study aboard and graduate with little to no debt.

EDWARD KENNELLY is a Bartlett resident. Contact him at ekennelly1997@gmail.com.