Promises, promises

It will be interesting to see the final analysis of Tennessee Promise for this enrollment cycle. Tennessee community colleges start on August 24. I hope the end result is more students in higher education--students who would not have otherwise enrolled.  From what I understand, it doesn't appear that promise is simply shifting enrollment from universities to community colleges.  Surprisingly, universities don't seem to be taking big hits in enrollment.  Some question if programs like Promise are serving the right students.  A recent piece in The Atlantic takes a look at that debate.

Michael Horn, the executive director of education at the Clayton Christensen Institute, a think tank that focuses on using “disruptive innovation” to develop solutions for the world’s problems, said his concern with the idea of free community college is that the people who will take advantage of the offer are not the students who most need financial assistance. He’d like to see studies done on other approaches to expanding college access—such as income-sharing, in which a company or other entity pays for a student’s tuition and the graduate pays a percentage of his or her income for a set number of years in exchange, instead. 
Mamie Voight, the director of policy research at the Institute for Higher Education Policy, which focuses on ways to expand access to college to underserved students, shares Horn’s concern. Instead of initiatives that make funding available to students who would attend college regardless of the programs, she’d like to see funds directed specifically to low-income students. The programs work by helping fill the gap left after Pell and other grants kick in, and Voight is concerned that someone with a higher income who isn’t eligible for those grants could ultimately receive more money. 
But to Krause, the Tennessee program’s director, that mindset “completely fails to account for the catalyzing effect financial aid has.” First-generation college students, he explained, aren’t necessarily familiar with the FAFSA or Pell Grants, or how to get them. Tennessee Promise’s makes it clear that college is an option for everyone, he said, and that there’s a spelled-out pathway for how to achieve it.


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