There's a drastic reduction in the number of Tennessee high school seniors who applied for Gov. Bill Haslam's Tennessee Promise last dollar scholarship compared to the number who will actually utilize it.
At the Mt. Juliet Chamber's monthly luncheon Wednesday, Tennessee Student Outreach Corporation Director Jason Seay summarized the progress of the innovative Tennessee Promise initiative enacted by Haslam in an effort to reach his goal to have 55 percent of Tennesseans obtain a college degree of some kind within the next 10 years.
The scholarship program begins in the 2015-2016 academic year, according to Seay. And those seniors who wanted to receive Tennessee Promise monies - that are based on the amount of remaining tuition and mandatory fees after all other gift aid - must have applied by Feb. 15.
Because this deadline has passed, experts like Seay have been able to shake down the numbers and are able to get a handle on how the initiative is going.
Fewer students have continued process
Seay said 58,286 Tennessee high school seniors applied. However, there's significant attrition based on several things. Of those who applied and were initially approved, only 38,165 students filled out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which is one of several steps mandated by the government to receive Tennessee Promise.
"A lot of those who originally applied were undocumented," said Seay. "This may be why many started to fill out the FAFSA and didn't finished because they are undocumented."
Seay said after researching the progress of applicants, they estimate only about 18,000 students will follow through in their attempts to receive Tennessee Promise. He noted the number of those who originally applied was grossly elevated because, "A lot of schools mandated the seniors fill out the application."
"We know many principals forced it, because what would be worse than not giving your students the opportunity," said Seay.
Additionally, many of those who do follow all the steps and meet all the deadlines won't actually need any last dollars after other gift aid is received.
"If there is a zero gap, then Tennessee Promise monies won't be utilized by that student," said Seay.
"We don't know yet how many of the estimated 18,000 will actually receive a dime," he said.
Adult students eligible for funds to technical schools
Haslam's initiative also has a measure to motivate adults who don't have a college degree. The Tennessee Reconnect scholarship allows independent adults 24 and older to receive tuition help at colleges of applied technology - at this time, not a community college, according to Seay.
Those who wish to receive these monies don't have to follow all the strict deadlines high school seniors had to complete. Seay said these adults simply need to fill out the FAFSA and apply to a technical college.
However, Seay said there is legislation moving forward to expand Reconnect to allow those accepted to attend a community college free of charge as well.
HOPE Scholarship moneys increased
Seay touched on some changes in the HOPE (Helping Outstanding Students Educationally) scholarship, changes that only affect those entering into collage this fall and beyond. Those going to a two-year college will now receive $1,500 a semester, an increase from $1,000, according to Seay. He said at the four-year level, current students receive $2,000 a semester. New students will now receive $1,750 per semester their freshman and sophomore years, but $2,250 their junior and senior years.
Seay explained the Tennessee Promise and Reconnect funds were created from extra reserve monies in the HOPE, General Assembly Merit Scholarship, and Aspire Award lottery budget. He said there must be $100 million in reserve at all times, however, now there is $260 million in reserve.
"The Governor skimmed off $160 million to create Tennessee Promise and Reconnect," said Seay.
All these grants and scholarships are available only to Tennessee students who choose schools within the state.
By the numbers
According to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development's 2013 data, 90.8 percent of Wilson Contains have a high school or higher degree, compared to 83.6 percent of Tennesseans and 85.6 percent in the United States. The percentage of Wilson County adults with a bachelor degree-plus is 26.9 percent, compared to 23.1 percent in Tennessee and 28.2 percent in the United States. The recent Wilson County high school graduate average ACT (American High School Testing) score is 19.90, compared to 18.62 in Tennessee and 21.10 in the United States.