Two free years of community college may become a possibility in Tennessee

Governor Bill Haslam presented a new proposal for free community college for incoming freshmen and sophomores last Wednesday, Feb. 5.

“This would affect incoming freshmen and sophomores for the class of 2015-16,” said Lester McKenzie, TTU director of financial aid.

The HOPE scholarship is an annual $4,000 scholarship allotted to any incoming freshman that has a minimal ACT score of 21, or a cumulative 3.0 GPA. Unlike some scholarships, this is not based on the annual income that has to be reported to FAFSA each year. It is solely based on good grades.

Many parents are concerned for their upcoming college students, but what about the students who are already in college? Some students are worried about the amount of money they will be able to receive.

Haslam’s TN Promise proposal would reduce the current amount each freshman and sophomore would be able to receive by $1,000, totaling $3,000 per year. The upside to this would be that as a junior and senior, they would receive a total of  $5,000. However, many students lose their HOPE by the time they are juniors or seniors.

“Last year, we had about 2,000 freshmen enter and, of those students, about 80-90 percent of those students were eligible for the HOPE scholarship,” said McKenzie. “Of those eligible students, 775 freshmen lost their HOPE scholarship.

“Governor Haslam’s plan has placed the burden of paying for a free community college education squarely on the shoulders of the student who chooses to attend a four-year college,” McKenzie said. “Without taking anything away from the value of a free education, students choose 4-year schools over community colleges for the services, student driven activities and a residential campus-community among other things that set a university apart from a community college,” said McKenzie.

To those students who are looking to go into the engineering department, or specialized fields here at Tech, having those connections and building relationships early in their academic career can be vital for their futures in their academic affairs as well as career fields later on. Many community colleges do not offer the same types of math or specified skills that a university could provide.

“While a community college is the right choice for many students… federal aid programs, state aid programs and institutional funds have a key role in allowing students the educational freedom to choose what type of institution to attend,” McKenzie said. “Students, who show the greatest need have consistently received the stronger aid packages because that is the basis of how financial aid works. This program shifts that focus to potentially force students into making decisions based on cost verses institutional type, losing some of their freedom to choose.”