Tenn. governor talks about big education plan

GREENE COUNTY, Tenn. - Tennessee will soon become the only state in the nation to provide two years at a community college for free to all graduating high school seniors.

It's a bold move announced last night during the governor's state of the state address.

It's called the 'Tennessee Promise,' a new plan unveiled by Governor Bill Haslam to get more Tennessee high school graduates to a community college or a college of applied technology.

Governor Haslam talked about his plan during a Tuesday stop in Greeneville. "It's really about doing two things: changing the culture of expectations, and really cutting the cost of higher education," he said.

This is all part of his 'Drive for 55' campaign. The governor says the goal is to have 55 percent of Tennesseans earn either a college degree or certificate beyond high school.

This comes as great news for many in education, including Dr. Vicki Kirk, the Director of Greene County Schools. She says her schools graduate about 500 students every year. "At least half of them will be impacted by this. It's good for Greene County, it's good for the kids, but it's good for our community too," she said.

Many of those students will opt to continue on at a community college free of tuition. Walters State has a satellite campus in Greeneville, and administrators like Lori Campbell expect to see an increase in students. "Breaking down the financial barrier for students in the East Tennessee region is huge. I really think the governor is putting the money that will make the biggest impact for our state," she said.

The goal is to get more people educated to get better jobs, and bring some economic development to the Volunteer State.

The Tennessee Promise will be funded by an endowment created from reserve funds from the Tennessee Lottery. The new program is expected to be in place by the start of the next school year.

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