Our neighbors in Tennessee invented “free” community college.
In 2014, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam launched the Tennessee Promise – two years of tuition-free community college for Tennessee high school graduates. Tennessee uses lottery money to create a “last-dollar” scholarship that pays a student’s tuition after federal and other aid have been tapped.1
More than 33,000 students took advantage of Tennessee Promise in its first two years, which increased enrollment in Tennessee’s community colleges by 30%, and this year Haslam expanded the program to all adults.2
Some question the term “free” community college – someone has to pay, after all, even if the student doesn’t. To be sure, many tuition-free offerings depend on public dollars from a state lottery, federal Pell Grants and other government programs to put together a financial aid package for the student.
But in an economy that increasingly demands an educated work force, many have concluded it’s worth it to have more educated workers.
In North Carolina, Brunswick,3 Isothermal,4 James Sprunt,5 Montgomery,6 Richmond,7 and Sandhills8 community colleges have all decided to remove financial barriers for students. Those schools have already put together public and/or private dollars to offer tuition-free coursework to graduates of local high schools.
“It is a step towards ensuring future generations are competitive in the global marketplace of the 21st century,” said Dr. Lawrence Rouse, President of James Sprunt in Duplin County. “Students will be able to graduate from James Sprunt without debt, become productive citizens and hopefully one day be in a position to give back to the community.”9
In his recommended budget this year, Gov. Roy Cooper proposed to use $19 million in lottery funds to provide last-dollar scholarships for recent high school graduates to attend community colleges across the state.10
The General Assembly didn’t include the governor’s proposal in its 2017-19 budget. But the issue isn’t likely to go away – Oregon made community college tuition-free for in-state students in 2015, and Arkansas and Kentucky have also moved to create tuition-free community college.
You can hear more discussion of creative ways to make college affordable at “Aim Higher, Achieve More,” a forum from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 4 at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte.
Participants will include:
• Governor Roy Cooper;
• NC House Speaker Tim Moore;
• NC Sen. Michael Lee, Co-Chair, Senate Higher Education Appropriations Committee;
• UNC President Margaret Spellings;
• Acting NC Community College System President Jennifer Haygood;
• Central Piedmont Community College President Kandi Deitemeyer; and
• UNC Charlotte Dean Ellen McIntyre, Cato College of Education.
The event is sponsored by the Higher Education Works Foundation with support from Bank of America.
You can register here – Friday is the last day to register!
10 https://files.nc.gov/ncosbm/documents/files/BudgetBook_2017_web.pdf, pp. 3, 49, 55.