Legislation approved this year help bring the dream of a college education to more Tennessee Students
Now, more than ever, our young people need a post-secondary degree or certificate to get a good job, take care of their families, and achieve the American dream of a college education. Legislation recently passed by the General Assembly works to accomplish this by providing additional scholarship opportunities to Tennessee students.
Data shows that our workforce is continuing to shift, with over half of jobs in Tennessee requiring some post-secondary education within the next five years. Statewide initiatives such as Tennessee Promise have helped to address the financial burden of enrolling in postsecondary education. Sadly, it is still difficult for many students, especially those from lower- and middle-income families, to go to college. Many students find themselves either saddled with years of loan debt or simply don’t have the means, even with such loans, to get a post-secondary education. Several bills passed by the General Assembly this year help students get a jump start on their college degrees to defray some of these costs.
In 2017 legislation was passed creating a Middle College Scholarship Program to offset costs for bright students who are working on their college degrees, while completing high school. Middle College is a rigorous public community college program that, in partnership with the local education agency (LEA), permits high school students to earn both a high school diploma and an associate degree during their junior and senior years. Many local students have benefitted from this program and legislation that was sponsored this year will increase the Middle College Scholarship Program stipend from $1,000 to $1,250 per semester to help cover the cost.
A similar program to help high school students earn college credits is the Dual Enrollment Grant. A separate bill passed by the General Assembly this year provides that the first four courses taken under this grant to be equal to the cost of in-state tuition and mandatory fees established annually for community colleges or Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs). In recent years, the Department of Education has encouraged students to obtain four early post-secondary opportunities. This legislation allows students to have a full-time semester completed once they graduate from high school.
Before the General Assembly wrapped up the 2021 legislative session, we also dealt with inequities in the HOPE Scholarship Grant for homeschool students. Under current law, homeschool students cannot qualify for HOPE Scholarships through their GPA score, unlike their public and accredited private school counterparts. Instead, they must solely rely on their ACT scores for eligibility. The new law solves this discrepancy by extending aid to homeschool students who both complete six credit hours of dual-enrollment and maintain at least a 3.0 GPA in those courses. Additionally, the legislation removes the requirement that a student must have been enrolled in a home school for one year immediately preceding the completion of their high-school level education.
Finally, the General Assembly approved legislation, which I sponsored, requiring the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) to establish a four-year pilot program that awards grants to Tennessee Promise scholarship students who are receiving services as part of the college coaching initiative. This initiative is delivered by partnering organizations to help students who are experiencing financial hardships that may prevent degree completion. It is hoped this legislation will be the impetus that gets these students over the finish line so they complete their degrees.
All of these programs help equip our students with the twenty-first century job skills needed to better their lives and bring new and better paying opportunities to our communities. There is still more work that must be done to overcome the cost of a post-secondary degree or certificate, but these scholarship opportunities will help as we strive to reach the goal of helping more Tennesseans achieve their dream of a college education.