LYNCHBURG, Tenn. – Politically and culturally, the capital of Moore County is about as red-state America as you can get. Its rolling green hills are dotted with farmhouses, old barns and beaten-up trucks; the tiny town square features two barbecue joints and a “Dixie Outfitters” shop hawking Confederate memorabilia. Donald Trump drew 80 percent of the vote, and the county went Republican for the four elections before that.
So it might come as a surprise that at Motlow State Community College’s Moore County campus, every local attends for free. In fact, anyone from Tennessee can go for free, courtesy of the state government.
The state’s free-college program, called Tennessee Promise, has been offering two years of tuition-free community college or technical school to all high school graduates, regardless of income, since 2014.
Since then, it has boosted graduation rates and grown in popularity every year. It inspired President Barack Obama’s free community college push in 2015 and provided a model for a handful of other states that have launched free-college programs of their own, including New York, Oregon and Rhode Island, though few go as far as Tennessee’s. The results here have been so promising that the state’s conservative Legislature decided to double down, expanding free community college beginning last year to all adults, regardless of income, who don’t already have a credential. The program has been wildly popular: The state’s higher education commission had anticipated just 8,000 adults would apply for the expanded program; 33,258 did. Nearly 15,000 of them enrolled in the first semester.
It might seem odd that a red state would pioneer an idea more associated with lefty politicians. But the story of Tennessee Promise shows that there can be significant bipartisan agreement on education if the policy is framed right. And its success holds lessons for not only how to talk about education in America, but how to bridge political divides by reaching out to those who feel left behind, in rural and urban America alike.
From the beginning, free college in Tennessee was framed not as a form of personal betterment, or social welfare, but in terms of economic development. State leaders found that companies considering locating in Tennessee wanted a broad base of skilled workers more than just about any financial incentive they could offer.
The plan would be funded from a lottery reserve – meaning no new taxes – and it would require students do community service to qualify, so it wouldn’t be seen as a handout.
when people came to learn it wasn’t costing taxpayers money unless they play the lottery, it gave them pause.
First Tennessee Promise is billed as an economic-growth program, a way to boost the workforce and lure companies – and jobs – to the state. It focuses on community colleges and technical colleges where students train for those jobs, rather than more elite universities that serve better-off students and come with what critics see as a liberal political culture.
I'm skeptical about "free college", but it's well within the constitutional construct and intent for states to offer it. The framers intended for the states to be empowered and to serve as individual experiments from which the other states could learn. On a large centeralized federal level, I'm pretty sure this would be doomed to fail.
No doubt, education is one of the best investments we as a society can make.
This was a terrific story and topic.
Great idea for the state of TN to do this, since they are ranked near the bottom in the country in education stats for their students. This helps strengthens businesses and the economy of TN, when their homegrown workers are better educated and stronger contributors.
After reading the article, it's clear that this is quite different than what a free college nationally program would be like. Applied universally in all states, would not afford one state with an advantage over another as this program is designed to do(but its good to educate young adults in all states).
Funding would be much different too as this program is not tapping into taxpayer funds.
The reality too is that tuition is just 20% of the cost of going to college according to this article. It's also not designed for low income students that are eligible for grants and free money from the government already.
This is for middle and higher income students, who's parents make too much money to get govt assistance...................and so you have much more support from a red state for this program.
Another good article: