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Tennessee high school seniors now have an opportunity to change the future — both for themselves and their families — but also for our state.

Earlier this year, working with the General Assembly, we passed the Tennessee Promise, a new scholarship program that provides two years of community or technical college to graduating high school seniors absolutely free of tuition and fees.

The Class of 2015 will be the first to take advantage of this program. Starting this month through Nov. 1, we are encouraging high school seniors to go online at www.TNPromise.gov to sign up.

For many families, cost has been one the biggest hurdles to higher education. With the Tennessee Promise, we hope this first two years of tuition-free college will help make it more affordable for more of our students to earn a certificate or degree beyond high school.

Tennessee will be the first and only state in the country to offer high school graduates two years of community or technical college tuition-free along with the support of dedicated volunteers and mentors to help make sure the students succeed.

Through the Tennessee Promise, we hope to boost our current college-going rate by more than 15 percent in the next five years — putting us at the top among the states we compete with most for the jobs of the future.

The Tennessee Promise makes a strong statement to our students and their families that education beyond high school is a priority for our state. It has to be. Our economic future depends on it.

In the next decade, 55 percent of Tennesseans will need a certificate or degree beyond high school to get a job, but today, only 32 percent of Tennesseans qualify.

While we know that college isn't for everyone, it has to be a reality for more Tennesseans than it is today.

It is going to take all of us working together to make sure high school seniors take advantage of the Tennessee Promise and to match them with a local mentor to help them succeed.

We need every county and community, every business and organization, to get involved — to lend your support in spreading the word about Tennessee Promise and to serve among the thousands of new volunteer mentors we need to support these students and our state.

Adults ready to volunteer as mentors can also sign up now at TNPromise.gov.

As we launch this initiative, we are making bold promise.

It is a promise — to today's kindergartners all the way through to our high school seniors:

You now have the opportunity to attend two years of community or technical college completely tuition-free when you graduate from high school.

It is a promise that will make a huge difference in the lives of generations of Tennessee students and their families.

Bill Haslam is governor of Tennessee.

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