U.S. Education Secretary John King visits
Pellissippi State to learn about Tennessee Promise first hand. Leaves impressed, it appears. Across the state, though, Promise hasn't appeared to boost community college enrollments much. I was surprised. From The Atlantic.
Free College Is Not a Fantasy
Last year, President Obama visited this campus to unveil his proposal for tuition-free community college. The location was no accident. A couple of years ago, Tennessee launched the Tennessee Promise, which covers tuition and fees for two-year degrees and credentials for the state’s high-school graduates after Pell grants and a series of other funds and scholarships are exhausted. It is based on a Knoxville plan that had grown to include several other counties in the state. A bipartisan initiative supported by a Republican governor, the idea is to help fill a growing workforce need.
And it seems to be working. There had been concern that as more students who previously might not have considered college took advantage of the program, college retention might decline. But average retention from the fall to spring semester last school year was above 80 percent, slightly higher than it was before the rollout. And Pellissippi president Anthony Wise said during King’s visit that the college’s Promise students—2,705 of about 10,244 students total—are faring even better academically than many of their non-Promise peers.
“We want to build on what’s happening here,” King said during a roundtable with students, noting that more than 30 similar programs have cropped up across the country in the last couple of years, including a recently announced plan in Los Angeles.
Yet not everyone is convinced the strategy can be scaled successfully, or that expanding it to cover four-year degrees, as Clinton’s plan would, makes sense. Robert Boyd, a professor at Pellissippi who brought students in his African American literature class to hear King speak, said he and some of his fellow professors have struggled with how to teach students who arrive on campus unprepared for college-level work. He worries that expanding access to college for more students could exacerbate that problem. “It’s a great idea,” Boyd said of free college, “but the gap is too wide.”