February 5, 2014; Chronicle of Higher Education

The Republican governor of Tennessee, William E. Haslam, has proposed in his “State of the State” address to offer two free years of community college or technical school to every high school graduate in the state. The effort would be funded with lottery proceeds. This idea, which he calls the Tennessee Promise, is expected to be a key part of his higher education agenda, getting people either an associate’s degree or halfway to a bachelor’s degree without cost.

Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education comments, “This is the best idea to boost participation in higher education in a generation.”

“It is a promise that we have an ability to make,” Governor Haslam said, according to a prepared text of his remarks. “Net cost to the state, zero. Net impact on our future, priceless.”

Other states, such as Arkansas, Georgia, and South Carolina, use lottery money to provide college scholarships, but they are restricted in that they generally require a certain grade point average to be eligible.

“We are committed to making a clear statement to families that education after high school is a priority in the State of Tennessee,” the governor said.

Additionally, the governor is advocating for the expansion of a mathematics program and a program that promotes to high school students dual-enrollment courses that earn the students college credits.

Governor Haslam believes that his plan’s impact will be as big psychologically as it is financially because school at this level “is more affordable than most people think, but if they don’t know that, that doesn’t help us.” He said, “If we can go to people and say, ‘This is totally free,’ that gets their attention.”

Tennessee has 13 degree-granting community colleges and what the New York Times calls “one of the nation’s most robust systems of vocational schools, the 27 Colleges of Applied Technology, which are a national leader in graduation rates.”

The proposal may be one of a number focused on reducing inequality that will be made by Republican governors. According to the Times, Republicans in several states have moved to expand pre-kindergarten classes.

The Times notes that “California had junior colleges without tuition or fees for decades, and the City University of New York did not charge for either two- or four-year colleges until the 1970s.”—Ruth McCambridge