(WBIR - Knoxville) Governor Bill Haslam made a promise in February to provide free community college to graduating high school students. This week, the state legislature backed him up by passing the Tennessee Promise plan.
A Knoxville-based nonprofit group says with funding in place, now the real work begins to ensure the Tennessee Promise program is a success. Much of that work will come from volunteers.
"For us, it means recruiting more mentors," said Krissy DeAlejandro, Executive Director of Tennessee Achieves.
Tennessee Achieves was the inspiration for the Tennessee Promise plan. The non-profit group has relied on private donations to fund free college tuition ever since the organization was founded six years ago. Now that the state is taking care of tuition, the group will shift its focus to helping expand all of the non-financial aspects to all of Tennessee.
"We're thrilled to expand the opportunity to every student in the state. We need mentors. Someone making sure the students have someone in their lives that can be that cheerleader, that encourager, that resource they might not have at home considering the majority of our students are the first in their family to go to college," said DeAlejandro.
DeAlejandro said the group needs to recruit 5,000 mentors who can spend one hour every month to help students prepare to enter college and then finish.
"It is about eliminating all the excuses students can throw at you like, 'I cannot afford it. I do not have anyone at home that knows anything about college.' Tennessee said we're eliminating all the excuses. You now have the opportunity to go. All you have to do is jump on the bandwagon," said DeAlejandro.
Guidance is needed to help students qualify and maintain eligibility for the program. All students must complete their FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), attend college orientation, maintain satisfactory academic progress, and perform one day of community service each semester.
Anyone 21 and older can volunteer to mentor. Tennessee Achieves provides free training for mentors. You can find more information on how to become a mentor at the Tennessee Achieves website.