NASHVILLE - Tennessee has officially become the first state to offer tuition-free community college to all adults.
Governor Bill Haslam signed the Tennessee Reconnect Act Wednesday morning after the General Assembly passed it earlier this month. The plan creates a last-dollar scholarship for adults who don't already have a college degree.
Haslam went on a tour across the state Wednesday to hold three signing ceremonies in East, Central and West Tennessee – the first at Walters State Community College in Morristown at 9 a.m. The governor then headed to Motlow State Community College in Smyrna, followed by Benjamin L. Hooks Central Public Library in Memphis.
It's part of Haslam's 'Drive to 55' initiative to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2025.
To be eligible students must not already have an associate or bachelor degree, be a Tennessee resident for at least one year before applying, be admitted to an eligible institution, participate in an advising program approved by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, and complete FAFSA and be deemed an "independent student."
The last-dollar scholarship, which will cover the cost of tuition and fees after other grants and scholarships are taken into account, will be entirely funded through the state's "Lottery for Education" account and is estimated to cost approximately $10 million once fully implemented.
Legal residents of Tennessee interested in taking advantage of the new post-secondary education benefits can find information on the Tennessee Reconnect site at this link. There, people can set up appointments with a local education office to receive free advising, career tools and information on understanding financial aid and college costs.
Some counties in East Tennessee, including Knox County, are currently not listed for having a TN Reconnect Advisor. The site says more counties will be added starting this summer, and people in the area can contact the Smoky Mountain Reconnect office in Morristown in the meantime.
In recent years, the state launched the Tennessee Promise program which provides two years of community or technical college to graduating high school seniors free of tuition and frees.
The Tennessee Reconnect program is expected to cost the state $11 million after students apply for grants and scholarships, with lottery proceeds paying for that cost, according to the Associated Press. Those who support the measure hailed it as a way to educate and transform the state's workforce. Haslam has set a goal that 55 percent of Tennesseans have a college degree or certificate by 2025.
“In Tennessee, we’ve determined that the best jobs plan is an education plan. If we want to have jobs ready for Tennesseans, we have to make sure that Tennesseans are ready for jobs, and there is no smarter investment than increasing access to high quality education,” Haslam said. “Just as we did with Tennessee Promise, we’re making a clear statement to families: wherever you fall on life’s path, education beyond high school is critical to the Tennessee we can be. I thank the legislature, particularly the bill’s sponsors, Leader Norris and Representatives Hawk and Powers, for their partnership in this important effort and look forward to signing the bill.”
The legislation allows both full and part-time students to participate as early as 2018.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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