The prospect of free community college in Tennessee has increased competition with universities, who have ramped up recruiting preemptively.
“The four-years are really worried about what the economics are going to look like for them if we take away some of their more profitable students,” Gov. Bill Haslam said at a New York Times conference on modern community colleges. Freshmen and sophomores often take classes with more students in them, making them effectively cheaper to educate.
The Tennessee Promise program funds free tuition at 2-year schools – in part – by reducing lottery scholarships for freshmen and sophomores at universities. Haslam relayed several candid conversations with college presidents at the event.
To stay competitive next year, East Tennessee State’s president told Governor Haslam he’s been out to high schools recruiting students himself. And Haslam recalled a recent chat with the University of Memphis president about double-digit student growth in the freshman class*.
“I said, ‘well how did you do it?’ And he said, ‘well do you want me to an academic answer or a real answer?’ I said, ‘I’ll take the real one.’ He said, ‘well, we started trying.’”
Memphis has increased recruiting efforts, particularly in neighboring states.
While universities may see a dip in freshmen and sophomores when the Tennessee Promise kicks in, Haslam says he hopes 4-year schools ultimately will receive more transfers who are ready to graduate on time.
“Obviously, it’s my program, so I’ll feel this way,” Haslam said. “But I think the net effect has been positive.”
*Revised for clarity. University of Memphis has actually had a slight drop in overall enrollment this year.