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States Look to Replicate Tennessee’s Free Community College for Adult Learners Program

Tennessee drew national attention last month when Gov. Bill Haslam announced an initiative to expand the state’s Tennessee Promise scholarship program to include adult learners. Providing a last dollar scholarship (which covers tuition costs not covered by other grants or scholarships) to students who attend the state’s community colleges, the program will break new ground by including the growing number of adult students—a first in the country.  

Now, as other states begin to devise their own such scholarship programs, states are increasingly looking to Tennessee to help shape their initiatives—and finding that such a program is more difficult to implement than first thought. The main issue holding back states’ programs is, predictably, financing. In contrast to most other programs, Tennessee’s initiative doesn’t directly cost taxpayers. This makes such programs an easier sell for constituents.

Messaging is another area where Tennessee’s program has shined and where others look for inspiration. Tennessee Promise provides resources covering more than just financial considerations for students, including guidance and career development options as well.

Announced in 2014 and first implemented in 2015, Tennessee Promise has had a total cost of $35.9 million—equating to an average payout of slightly more than $1,000 per student. The first students to take advantage of the program are now set to graduate.

With adults set to be covered by the Tennessee’s program and a growing movement of nationwide support for adult learners, advocates for adult learners have reason for optimism.

To read the full Inside Higher Ed article, click here.


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