Typically known for their baccalaureate and master's programs, Cumberland University and some other area private universities are enthusiastic participants in Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam's new, innovated Tennessee Promise initiative that gives high school graduates a chance to earn a two-year Associate's Degree free of tuition.
The general populace think students will flock to state community colleges such as Volunteer State in Gallatin, or technical colleges that offer a two-year certificate. But as Gov. Haslam says in his open letter, "The Tennessee Promise is a last-dollar scholarship that covers the remaining tuition and mandatory fees after all other financial aid and can be used at any of Tennessee's 13 community colleges or 27 colleges of applied technology. It can also be used to cover a portion of tuition at our public and private four-year institutions that offer an associate's degree."
The key word in this statement regarding four year institutions is "portion," and, it's important to remember these four-year universities must have an established Associate Degree program.
Cumberland University President Harvill Eaton said his school is on the list as a Tennessee Promise participant. He said he's had private meetings with the governor and other private university presidents about the initiative and walked away with the belief "the program benefits students, Cumberland University and Wilson County."
"We are authorized for an Associate's Degree program," said Eaton. "We were never de-authorized to offer this degree. The decision has been made to still offer this as an option."
In fact, Eaton said they graduated a student with an Associate's Degree several years ago. And now he hope some students will take advantage of Tennessee Promise and attend Cumberland University, attain and Associate's Degree, and continue "their very important education here." Or, transfer the two-year degree to Cumberland.
And while Eaton said he's a "strong supporter" of Tennessee Promise, he chimes in loudly with Tennessee Promise Executive Director Mike Krause to note while the Tennessee Promise is eligible for usage at private, four-year institutions there are two important caveats.
"In order to use the Tennessee Promise scholarship at a four-year college or university, a student must enroll in an associates degree program at that school, not a bachelor's degree program," said Krause.
Krause explained the amount of funding a student will receive is based on the average amount of tuition and fees at a community college after Pell, HOPE, and TSAA funds are considered.
Krause also emphasized at a four-year institution "the Tennessee Promise scholarship will not cover all tuition and fees."
For example, if the tuition and fees at a community college are approximately $4,000, and a student was to receive $3,500 in other financial aid, Tennessee Promise would provide $500 to that and could apply it toward tuition and fees at a four-year college.
According to Tennessee Promise, along with Cumberland University, other private universities regularly attended by locals on the list are Bethel University, Carson-Newman University, Trevecca Nazarene University and Union University.
Krause said Tennessee Promise's connection with private universities is important.
"The most meaningful way most universities are partnering with Tennessee Promise is by building connections with students to transfer to their institution after they utilize the Tennessee Promise to successfully graduate from a community or technical college," said Krause.
However, he said for some students the Tennessee Promise grant can "cushion" tuition the first two years at a private school that might better suit a student's needs or personality.
Bethel University, with their home campus in McKenzie, is a participant in Tennessee Promise, according to spokesperson Cindy Chambers. She said they offer 10 different Associate Degree programs ranging from accounting, to business to IT to customer relations management.
"The value of an associates degree is the path to an increased value of a four-year degree," she said.
Chambers said Bethel, along with many other four-year universities, generally accept full transfers of associate's degrees, but urged students to fully explore their options when choosing which path to take if they plan to take part in Tennessee Promise.
Impetus of Tennessee Promise
In February of 2014, Haslam proposed a plan to give Tennessee high school graduates the chance to earn an associates degree from a community or technical college, or participating four year university, absolutely free of tuition and mandatory fees. The General Assembly approved the plan in April of 2014 and the program is up and running for the graduating classes of 2015 across the state.
The Tennessee Promise is part of the state's Drive to 55 Campaign, which is a program to make sure 55 percent of the state's population holds a certificate or degree by 2025.
"Attaining this goal is key to our state's workforce readiness and economic future," said Haslam in a recent speech.
According to state documents, the estimated annual cost of Tennessee Promise is $34 million to provide students with five consecutive semesters.
Students are encouraged to contact their guidance counselors about particulars of Tennessee Promise and go to tennesseepromise.gov for further information.
Writer Laurie Everett may be contacted at email@example.com.