43 9 LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

Governor Bill Haslam made a promise to Tennesseans earlier this year.

He said every high school senior, no matter what their academic or financial circumstances, could go to community college for free.

He has started the process of fulfilling that promise. He is traveling around the state speaking with high school students about how Tennessee Promise works and when to apply.

Tuesday, he met with students at Gibbs High School in Corryton. First with a small group of students to get their input and then to the entire senior class.

"Tennessee is the only state in the country that makes this two year offer free to all of our high school students," Governor Haslam said.

Gibbs High School Senior, James Dunn, is planning on taking advantage of the opportunity.

"My parents didn't go to college," Dunn said, "It gives me the chance to go to college. Finances can be hard sometimes especially for my people and it gave me a good chance to get to go to college."

Tennessee Promise is one of the key components to the Governor's Drive to 55 campaign. He says the state needs to have 55 percent of their residents with a college degree or certificate by 2025 to stay competitive economically.

"I think it will be the key criterion in making certain that we have 55 percent of our population have a degree or certificate 10 years from now," Haslam said, "which is critical because 55% of the jobs that will exist will require a degree or certificate."

If the promise sounds familiar, it's because the idea started in Knoxville and has been helping tens of thousands of students go to college since 2008 through Tennessee Achieves.

RELATED: Knoxville nonprofit inspires Tennessee Promise

"It worked so well, college attendance rates went up so high for Knox County Schools, that we thought this is too important not to do throughout the state," Haslam said.

Forty percent of Gibbs 2014 graduating seniors used Tennessee Achieves to go to two-year colleges. They're hoping that number will continue to increase.

"It sounds amazing. It' hard to believe they would give us two years for free. It's something you don't really hear about," Dunn said.

Tennessee Promise is funded through the education lottery reserve.

The deadline for students to apply is November 1. Students must apply online at tnpromise.gov.

43 9 LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: http://on.wbir.com/1oP6kZM