February 5, 2014

In what is being hailed as the first of its kind in the nation, Tennessee’s governor, Bill Haslam (R) has proposed an initiative that would allow every high school graduate in the state to attend at least two years of college with a big discount. The goal is to make college more affordable, and in the case of technical schools or community colleges: completely free.

The move would help stop the disturbing explosion in tuition costs that has become a trend across the United States.


Under Haslam’s plan, which he calls “Tennessee Promise,” the state would provide access to at least two years of college education for free using the state’s community colleges and technical schools. Those credits could then transfer to four-year institutions.

“The Tennessee Promise is an ongoing commitment to every student from every kindergartner to every high school senior. We will promise that he or she can attend two years of community college or a college of applied technology absolutely free,” Haslam said during his State of the State speech this week.


It’s important to note that the plan wouldn’t prevent students from attending four-year colleges directly from high school if they chose to do so. Instead, it would offer a chance at college for families that previously had no way to pay for it. Before the plan, families often find themselves caught in a cycle of poverty because in America’s job market a college degree is increasingly required but attaining one means paying tuition money that they couldn’t afford without having jobs that pay higher – for which they needed a college degree.

Tennessee will offer its poorer residents an almost overnight access to 25% higher lifetime earning potential with an associate’s degree.


What’s more, an associate’s degree can easily be turned into a Bachelor’s Degree, furthering a trend towards economic advancement.

Community college is already a much cheaper alternative to a traditional four-year university, but even they can seem out of reach for families that are living paycheck to paycheck. Federal grants such as Pell provide a lot of help, but don’t often cover the complete cost.

But even for students who pay little or nothing, eliminating tuition and fees is financially significant, because Pell and some other types of grants can be used to pay for books, supplies, travel and other costs, said Jennifer Ma, a policy researcher at the College Board and co-author of its annual report on college prices.

“Tuition and fees are only part of the cost of attendance,” she said. “There’s an opportunity cost, because they’re giving up jobs, and there are other expenses.” [source]

The education gap between poor and everybody else is one of the major reasons there is so little social mobility. In America, you have to invest a lot of money in order to see a return. The website, Covering Poverty, an advocacy group for Amercia’s poor, created a list of ways poverty and education are intricately linked to one another. I encourage you to read the whole list but here are a few that stand out:

— Education is directly related to the ability to earn enough to stay out of poverty. From 2008 Georgia Wage Survey Annual earnings High school dropout $22,100 High school graduate 29,500 Post High school 41,700 College graduate 59,000 Lifetime earnings High school dropout $ 884,000 High school graduate 1,180,000 Post High school 1,668,000 College graduate 2,360,000

— The higher the individual’s education, the more job benefits that become available. Almost 95 percent of people with college degrees have employer-provided health care compared with 77 percent for high school-level employees and 67 percent for high school dropouts.

— Thirty percent of children do not graduate from high school. These children are more likely to go to prison or enroll in welfare programs. They cause a financial burden on society in lost tax revenue, increased health care costs, food stamps, subsidized housing and public assistance.

Governor Haslam is a bit of an oddity in the Republican party because he hasn’t shied away from spending increases if it means developing programs to help the poor. “Tennessee Promise,” for example, uses all state-owned money to fund itself. In any other political climate, a proposal like this would be uncontroversial, but many congressional Republicans see any increased spending as a surrender. It’s refreshing to see a governor who is willing to put his constituents above his party.

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