Tennessee Becomes First State to Offer Free Community College for All Adults

Tennessee has become the first U.S. state to offer tuition-free community college to all adults. Those who do not possess an associate or bachelor’s degree, can enroll for free starting in the 2018 fall semester.

The opportunity to go to college for free is more available than ever before. States and cities, in the last year especially, have funded programs for students to go to two-year, and in some cases, four-year, schools, NPR writes.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has long talked about the importance of getting adults back to school. According to Haslam, over half of Tennesseeans will have the opportunity to get a college degree or certificate through the initiative.

“If we want to have jobs ready for Tennesseans, we have to make sure that Tennesseans are ready for jobs, and there is no smarter investment than increasing access to high-quality education,” Haslam said in a statement last month.

To be eligible, students must have been a state resident for at least a year before applying, to maintain a 2.0 GPA, enroll in enough classes to be a part-time student, and complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Expanding the free-tuition program will cost about $10 million once fully implemented. But it will be funded by the state’s lottery account, just like the rest of Tennessee Promise.

More than 33,000 students have benefited from the Tennessee Promise program in its first two years, raising enrollment among first-time freshmen by 30 percent, according to the governor’s office. The first group of eligible students are graduating this year.

Nationally, only about one-third of adults who start community college finish it, and that number is even lower if they go back part-time, which Tennessee allows them to do. The state argues the flexibility is necessary, otherwise, officials say, very few adults would bother enrolling.

Since Haslampushed for the Tennessee Promise program in 2014, the idea of tuition-free college has gained some traction. Oregon has made community college free for recent high school grads and GED recipients, too. San Francisco will make community college free for all residents starting this fall.

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