Half Of Tennessee Promise Students Were Already Eligible For Federal College Funding
Garnering federal financial aid, using a form known as the FAFSA, can be a confusing process for students, state officials say. Tennessee Promise requires that students fill out the FAFSA before getting the state's last-dollar scholarship. Credit: Bent Tree via Flickr

Half Of Tennessee Promise Students Were Already Eligible For Federal College Funding

Garnering federal financial aid, using a form known as the FAFSA, can be a confusing process for students, state officials say. Tennessee Promise requires that students fill out the FAFSA before getting the state's last-dollar scholarship. Credit: Bent Tree via Flickr
Students have to fill out a form known as the FAFSA to apply for federal financial aid, which can be a confusing process for students, state officials say. Tennessee Promise requires that students fill out the FAFSA before getting the state’s last-dollar scholarship. Credit: Bent Tree via Flickr

About half of the students attending community college under Tennessee Promise next fall will get their tuition paid by the federal government, according to state estimates. Those students could have already gone to school tuition-free, even without Tennessee Promise.

Low-income college students are eligible for the Pell grant from the U.S. Department of Education each year. At $5,550, it more than covers the cost of community college in Tennessee.

But many students don’t know this help exists, says Mike Krause, executive director of Tennessee Promise.

“When you have a low-income, first-generation college student … they don’t know that their low-income status actually puts them in a position to receive a substantial amount of financial aid,” Krause says. “We think that really a lot of students have taken themselves off the table.”

Tennessee Promise calls itself a “last-dollar scholarship”: Students have to fill out the eight-page federal financial aid form, and the state then pays any tuition not covered. Krause calls Tennessee Promise a “catalyst” that helps many students take a path that was already available.

When 23 Tennessee counties piloted a similar program in previous years, 48 percent of the students received a Pell grant. Krause says the state expects a similar percentage of Tennessee Promise applicants to qualify, if not higher. In other words, the state would be able to guarantee free college tuition for thousands of students without having to pay a penny.

There is still a benefit to being a Tennessee Promise student, Krause says: Even if the state doesn’t contribute to their tuition, they will be paired with a mentor to help them through the college and financial aid application processes.

About 50,000 students have applied so far. The deadline is Saturday.


Tennessee Promise By The Numbers

  • 49,600 high school seniors have filled out the application for Tennessee Promise, as of Wednesday
  • 62,000 total high school seniors in Tennessee
  • 12,000 students are expected to enroll in community college using Tennessee Promise
  • About half of Tennessee Promise students are expected to be funded by federal aid

Emily Siner

Emily Siner is an enterprise reporter at WPLN. She has worked at the Los Angeles Times and NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., and her written work was recently published in Slices Of Life, an anthology of literary feature writing. Born and raised in the Chicago area, she is a graduate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. On Twitter: @SinerSays
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