Legislation opens doors to scholarships, diplomas
The legislation approved this year is helping fulfill the dream of a college education to more Tennessee students.
Today more than ever, our young people need a post-secondary diploma or certificate to get a good job, care for their families and realize the American dream of a college education. Legislation recently passed by the General Assembly aims to achieve this goal by providing additional scholarship opportunities to Tennessee students.
Data shows our workforce continues to change, with more than half of jobs in Tennessee requiring post-secondary education over the next five years. Statewide initiatives such as the Tennessee Promise have helped reduce the financial burden of enrolling in post-secondary education. Unfortunately, it is still difficult for many students, especially those from low and middle income families, to go to university. Many students either find themselves struggling with years of debt or simply cannot afford, even with such loans, to pursue post-secondary education. Several bills passed by the General Assembly this year are helping students get started in college quickly to cover some of these costs.
In 2017, legislation was passed to create a scholarship program for middle colleges to offset costs for bright students who are preparing their college degrees while completing high school. Middle College is a rigorous public community college program that, in partnership with the local education agency (LEA), enables high school students to earn both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree at the during their junior and senior years. Many local students have benefited from this program and the legislation that was sponsored this year will increase the Middle College scholarship program allocation from $ 1,000 to $ 1,250 per semester to help cover costs.
A similar program to help high school students earn college credit is the Dual Enrollment Grant. A separate bill passed by the General Assembly this year provides that the first four courses taken under this grant must equal the cost of tuition and compulsory fees established annually for community colleges or colleges of Tennessee Applied Technology (TCAT). In recent years, the Department of Education has encouraged students to obtain four early post-secondary education opportunities. This law allows students to have a full-time semester once they graduate from high school.
Before the General Assembly closes the 2021 legislative session, we also addressed inequalities in the HOPE scholarship for home students. Under current law, home students cannot qualify for HOPE scholarships based on their GPA score, unlike their counterparts in accredited public and private schools. Instead, they only need to rely on their ACT scores to be eligible. The new law addresses this discrepancy by extending support to home schooling students, who both complete six dual enrollment credit hours and maintain at least a 3.0 GPA in those courses. In addition, the legislation removes the requirement that a student must have been enrolled in a home school for one year immediately prior to completing high school.
Finally, the General Assembly approved legislation, which I sponsored, requiring the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) to establish a four-year pilot program that provides grants to Tennessee Promise scholarship students, who receive services as part of the university coaching initiative. This initiative is implemented by partner organizations to help students facing financial difficulties that may prevent them from graduating. It is hoped that this legislation will be the impetus for these students to cross the finish line to graduate.
All of these programs help equip our students with the 21st century professional skills needed to improve their lives and provide new and better paying opportunities to our communities.
There is still work to be done to overcome the cost of a post-secondary degree or certificate, but these scholarship opportunities will help us as we strive to help more Tennessians achieve their dream of a college education.