Tennessee Achieves was the brainchild of then-Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam and his staff in 2008 as a way to provide more educated local workers. Area students could earn an associate degree for free at an area community college, as long as they were full-time students, maintained a 2.0 grade-point average, regularly met with mentors in their field of study, and completed at least eight hours of community service.
When Haslam was elected governor, he took the program statewide, enabling students to attend any of the state’s 13 community colleges, 27 technical schools, or four-year institutions that offered associate degrees. More than 22,000 students in the first group who enrolled in the expanded program, called Tennessee Promise, this fall.
“We have a lot of students who do not think about going to college,” said Janice Gilliam, president of Northeast State Community College, Blountville, in an article for The Atlantic. “Some of their parents have not even finished high school. This is a huge step to break this cycle. A lot of them don’t even know they have talent.”
Tennessee has already started promoting the program to current high school seniors in an effort to get them to complete the community-service requirement early. About 1,000 students signed within the first 24 hours the 2016 program was made available.
“Walking around with some college and no degree doesn’t go far on a resume,” Paul Percy, provost at Carson-Newman University, Jefferson City, told Inside Higher Education. “To give associate degrees along the way is a benefit to students because life might happen.”