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Friday, June 1, 2018

Too Early to Tell About Tennessee Promise

Education officials in Tennessee have released data on the Tennessee Promise, a program designed to make community college free for graduating high school seniors in the state. The results were encouraging, but it’s too soon to proclaim a smashing success.

Of the more than 13,000 students who participated in the Tennessee Promise class of 2015, 21.5% graduated with a degree or certificate, an increase over the 13.8% of students who accomplished the same thing the year before the program started. The data also indicated that only 8.3% of students who didn’t enroll in the Tennessee Promise in 2015 were able to earn a degree or certificate in five semesters.

“I have my degree and zero student debt,” one graduate of the program said in a National Public Radio report. “You do have to pay for your books and your parking passes, but that’s a heck of a deal. You can’t beat that.”

On the other hand, the dropout rate for the first Tennessee Promise class was just 2.3% lower than the rate of freshmen who dropped out in 2014. Some in higher ed also argue the data don’t actually show what caused the increase in degrees and certificates attained.

“We don’t have a benchmark for success on this because Tennessee’s the first state,” said Joni Finney, director of the Institute for Research on Higher Education, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. “I’m just worried about pulling the carrot out of the ground too soon to see if it’s full grown. I think these programs have to evolve.”

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