(WBIR) A Knoxville non-profit is the inspiration behind Governor Haslam's promise to give all graduating high school seniors two years of free college.
In his State of the State address Monday night, the governor introduced the initiative called Tennessee Promise. Using the $110 million reserve funds from the Tennessee Education Lottery, he proposed the legislature create an endowment to fund the scholarships.
The plan states every student would have the opportunity to go to community or technical college without fees or tuition for two years.
"Through the Tennessee Promise, we are fighting the rising cost of higher education, and we are raising our expectations as a state," Haslam said. "We are committed to making a clear statement to families that education beyond high school is a priority in the state of Tennessee."
Providing community college scholarships is something Tennessee Achieves has been doing for six years now. The nonprofit started in the Knoxville mayor's office as Knox Achieves.
"The first year we sent 286 students to college and this year we collected over 14,000 applications," said Tennessee Achieves Executive Director Krissy DeAlejandro.
Out of donated warehouse space, a team of seven people work with thousands of students, mentors, parents, and schools each day.
The governor's office said Tennessee Achieves founder, Randy Boyd, and the organization's model helped to develop Tennessee Promise.
Many of the principals at the heart of tnAchieves are incorporated into the plan.
Both tnAchieves and Tennessee Promise require a mentor for every student. Neither program have GPA or test score requirements. 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.
Boyd added other organizations also served as inspiration for Tennessee Promise.
tnAchieves currently provides scholarships in 27 counties with private donations. With Tennessee Promise, they could expand to all 95 counties.
"Currently every dollar we raise goes to directly to student scholarships and now we will be shifting the focus because those scholarship dollars will be taken care of," said DeAlejandro.
DeAlejandro said, if the legislation is passed, they will be bringing in additional staff. They currently help recruit around 1,200 mentors a year. They expect this expansion would require 5,000 mentors.
At tnAchieves they say they already see what providing an opportunity to go college can do for students. Now this small team hopes to accomplish even bigger things with the governor's help.
"The work is incredible and the students that we meet with and the mentors we're able to work with are so inspiring," she said.
If the budget passes, it will apply to students entering college in fall of 2015.