10Listens: How Tennesseans can earn a degree for free

Since Tennessee Reconnect went live on Thursday, WBIR has received several questions about the sign-up process and where the money comes from.

Adults in Tennessee can now take advantage of tuition-free community and technical college.

Online applications for "Tennessee Reconnect" went live on Thursday, and since then, WBIR has received several questions about the sign-up process and where the money comes from.

Tennessee Reconnect is funded by lottery dollars, not tax money.

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At Pellissippi State Community College, Enrollment Services Assistant Vice President Dr. Leigh Anne Touzeau says they're already fielding applications since the program went live.

“So far, so good. We’ve gotten about half a dozen responses over the weekend, so we’re getting back to those students. We’ve had some informational sessions already, and we’ve had 50 or so students come in asking questions about it,” Touzeau said. “There are so many students out there who started some college and have a little under their belt, but for whatever reason, had to leave. Now is their chance to come back without paying any tuition. It’s a huge opportunity.”

Gov. Bill Haslam signed the act back in May, and while it takes effect state-wide during the upcoming school year, Touzeau said they didn't want to wait that long, so they created a college-wide scholarship at Pellissippi State called ReConnect now to carry them over until the state program kicks in.

“We’re so excited. We feel like we’re changing the lives of thousands of people. We funded it with our own tuition dollars and so far, we’ve had a good success rate, so we’re excited about it,” Touzeau said, adding they had 2,000 adult students enroll using the scholarship and they expect the number to remain just as high when Tennessee Reconnect takes effect.

“With the Reconnect program, that changed everything for me,” said student Kimberly Pierce. "I kept thinking to myself, 'gosh, I'm going to be almost 40 by the time I get the degree,' then I realized, I'm going to be 40 whether I get the degree or not, so you might as well take the opportunity."

Pierce said the program is changing her life and hopes it does the same for others who seize the opportunity.

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To take advantage of the state benefits beginning in the coming fall semester, Haslam encourages adults to follow four steps to apply:

Only Tennessee residents without an associate or bachelor's degree can be considered for the scholarship. Applicants must also have established residency in the state for at least one full year and need to file as an independent student on the FAFSA.