Tennessee’s Free Community College Is a Success and Spreading

Benefits of Free

Inside Higher Education

October 16, 2014

Paul Fain

The concept of tuition-free community college is picking up steam. Chicago this month followed Tennessee with the creation of a new community-college scholarship for high school graduates.

Meanwhile, student demand in Tennessee has been enormous. The Tennessean, a Nashville newspaper,reported that in just two months 35,000 high school seniors have applied to the program, which is called the Tennessee Promise. The state appears likely to double its original estimate of 20,000 applications.

“We are going to get a lot of new people,” said Karen Bowyer, president of Dyersburg State Community College.

Despite the enthusiasm, the “free” community college planshave critics.

The scholarships do not cover most living expenses, theyhave said, such as for transportation or day care. Some of the money also will go to students who can afford to pay for tuition.

In addition, Chicago’s Star Scholarship has drawn fire for its eligibility requirements, which critics said look like merit aid.

The scholarship was jointly announced by Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s mayor, and Cheryl Hyman, chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago. Students must have a high-school GPA of 3.0 and need no remediation in math or English to qualify.

Only an estimated 3,000 of the city’s roughly 20,000 high school graduates would qualify. A spokeswoman for City Colleges said the annual estimated cost of the scholarship is $2 million, which would easily be covered by the $10 million the system saved through consolidations and cuts in its capital plan.

(All Tennessee high school graduates may apply for the Tennessee Promise. But they must enroll full-time and maintain a 2.0 GPA.)

Even so, free-tuition plans send a powerful positive message to lower-income students, said several experts, including those who are skeptical about some details of the scholarships. That’s because the full-court blitz of saying “college is for you” might bring in more students who otherwise would have passed on higher education.

Take the “last-dollar” scholarship complaint, which refers to the fact that the plans pay only for tuition and fees that federal and state grant aid fail to covers. The maximum Pell Grant of $5,645 is more than the annual tuition charged by both Tennessee’s two-year colleges and the City Colleges of Chicago. That means relatively little scholarship money might go to lower-income students.

Yet students need to pursue federal aid eligibility to get it. And they must first fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which has been bashed widely for being too complicated. Needier students typically also lack the family and peer support to navigate financial aid forms.

That’s where scholarship programs like Tennessee’s can come in.

Tennessee Promise

Applications so far: 35,000+

Original goal: 20,000

Estimated enrollment with scholarship: 12,000

TN high school graduates last year: 63,133

Total enrollment in two-year colleges: 102,483

“We think there are a lot of lower-income students who don’t know the financial aid resources that are available to them,” said Mike Krause, the Tennessee Promise’s executive director. By telling high-school students that their college tuition will be covered — in clear and simple language — Krause said, “you get them to the table.”

The program also includes a broad range of supports for its award recipients. Before students enroll next fall, they will be assigned to a mentor. So far 5,000 of the needed 6,000 mentors have been recruited. Company employees, retirees and college staff have signed up, among others.

Students also will be required to attend two on-campus orientation events this spring, which Krause said will be designed to help first-generation college students. They must also complete eight hours of community service.

The orientations will seek to reduce students’ anxiety, Krause said, by answering questions like, “What is a bursar?”

That sort of one-on-one guidance for incoming students is common at selective colleges, but rare at cash-strapped community colleges. And the Tennessee Promise gets high school students in the enrollment pipeline a full year out, which is also unusual because many new community college students register just weeks or even days before courses start.

Krause said many high school guidance counselors around the state are on board and working with students on how to attend community college. All those factors should go a long way to helping students avoid snags with financial aid.

Bowyer said she’s already seeing it happen at her college. Prospective students and their parents have been on campus for events like the statewide “Scholarship Saturday” in September.

“They’ve never gone through the FAFSA,” she said of many families, but they are getting help with it now.

The Tennessee Promise builds on a similar private scholarship program, tnAchieves, which has been offered around much of the state for years. The program also includes a heavy dose of student supports, including mentors.

“They get the message,” said Bowyer of tnAchieves’ scholarship recipients. “There are a lot of people helping these young people.”

Free and Merit-Based?

Robert Kelchen is one of the skeptics. Kelchen, an assistant professor in Seton Hall University’s department of education leadership, management and policy, recently wrote about several possible problems with free community college policies, pointing in particular at how they might fail to help lower-income students.

Yet Kelchen agreed that the programs’ symbolic value could be substantial. For example, he pointed to research finding that students who received help with their FAFSA, as well as information about financial aid options, were more likely to enroll in college and to receive more aid money.

As a result, Kelchen said, officials in Tennessee might be able to make good on their bet that more students will pursue federal aid because of the scholarship.

“I hope they’re right,” he said.

The eligibility requirements of Chicago’s scholarship are a tougher sell to higher education experts.

Evelyn N. Waiwaiole, director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin, compared those criteria to that of Georgia’s HOPE scholarship, which has controversial merit elements.

Tuition-free community college scholarships “are created with good intentions,” she said via email. “But we have to ask — who really wins?”

Tom Bailey also is skeptical about free-tuition plans. Bailey, who directs the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College, wonders if the programs will be accompanied by steep tuition hikes or by taking state support away from colleges. (That hasn’t happened in Tennessee or Chicago, at least yet.)

Yet Bailey notes that the scholarships in Tennessee and Chicago are part of wider-ranging campaigns.

Since 2010 City Colleges of Chicago have been working on a “reinvention” that seeks to improve student success and institutional efficiency. At the project’s core is an attempt to graduate more students. And it’s working: the system hasnearly doubled both the number of degrees awarded and its formerly abysmal graduation rate, which is up to 13 percent from 7 percent.

Bailey said the Chicago scholarship is in the “spirit of reform,” and could help build momentum for the colleges’ promising work on student success.

Big Numbers

Bill Haslam, Tennessee’s Republican governor, has made the Tennessee Promise the cornerstone of his ambitious college completion push for the state.

To put the 35,000 applications for the scholarship in context, Tennessee had 63,000 high school graduates last year. Its 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology enroll 99,000 students, a small portion of whom are first-time, full-time students like those who might attend under the scholarship program.

State officials are sticking to their original high-end estimate of 12,000 students who actually will attend community college as part of the Tennessee Promise.

Many students have applied as an insurance policy, in case they don’t get into a four-year institution.

Entire senior classes have signed up at some Tennessee high schools. Many of those who don’t end up taking advantage of the scholarship will enroll in Tennessee’s four-year institutions. That’s obviously not a bad thing, state officials said. And some among those eventual 12,000 students would have enrolled in community colleges anyhow.

Yet the expected influx from the Tennessee Promise will make a difference — a big one.

“We’re going to have enough students show up that the college-going rate in Tennessee changes,” said Krause.High school students line up at a Tennessee Promise event at Motlow State Community College

The state’s two-year colleges should be able to handle the bump in students, said Krause and others. Enrollment at Tennessee community colleges has been falling after a multiyear post-recession bump. It dropped by more than 4 percent last year, after a similar decline last year.

Dyersburg is ready, said Bowyer. Like other two-year institutions in Tennessee, the college has benefited from generous state funding for facilities in recent years. (Operational support did not go up during this tight budget year, however, despite Gov. Haslam’s request for more money.) Dyersburg has 188 square feet of facility space per full-time-equivalent student, which is among the roomiest in the state.

Despite the flood of applications, the Tennessee Promise’s leaders are pushing hard for more before the application deadline of Nov. 1.

Krause has logged thousands of miles while crisscrossing the state to visit high schools and promote the scholarship. When reached this week he was headed to Jackson State Community College for a sign-up event.

The plan is to “hit every corner of the state,” he said, “and make sure every student has an opportunity.”



Chris Jones Was Not The Right Fit At Louisville

The Chris Jones saga at Louisville is over. However the fall out will last forever. This season will go down in Louisville history as one of the strangest in the history of the program and for good reason. Why did Rick Pitino recruit him in the first place? That is the the million dollar question. In fact there are many questions. The vetting process is apparently broken at Louisville. And it is more than evident that Coaches are hired to coach, they are not hired for their skills in personality assessment. That much is evident. Rick Pitino is not a Human Resource guru and there lies the problem.

The fact of the matter is offering a kid a scholarship and investing time and money in them is a huge commitment. Which begs the question are college coaches up to this job? The clear answer is no. A quick solution is to leave the vetting of potential recruits to the professionals who know what they are doing. Coaches can evaluate talent and decide if they want the player, but someone with credentials besides the coach should vet the players before the green light is given to the coach to sign him.

Coaches are hired because they have great skills with evaluating talent and creating a winning offense around their players. They are not therapist or psychologist. They may think they are, however that is not good enough. They are basketball coaches. Coaches should simply find the talent and then let HR vet the players. Now we have a situation where no one knows what Chris Jones did to get dismissed from the team. The fans, those who care about the program really need to know. There needs to be an explaination.

Furthermore, just because a player has talent does not mean he is the right fit for the university. Apparently that is the case with Chris Jones.





Louisville Can Still Make A Deep Run In The Tournament

Ok, I am not a Rick Pitino fan. To me he is not the best coach we (Louisville) ever had. That title belongs to former Coach Denny Crum, hands down. Rick Pitino runs a dysfunctional program and he often recruits the wrong type of players and cries foul when they eventually are released from the program for commiting some ridiculous act.

The real reason for this post is to say that Rick Pitino will have to prove his mettle starting tomorrow against Georgia Tech. No, Pitino's job is not in jeopardy, he will still be Louisville's coach however He will need to prove that he belongs in the elite class of college coaches. The bar is set way high for Pitino and nothing short of a NCAA final appearance this year will prove that he is an elite coach.

Louisville released Chris Jones, Louisville's best player about 5 hours ago. That would be enough to seal the deal on this season. However us Louisville fans never give up and we hope Pitino does not either. To tell you the truth, Chris Jones was a detriment to the program from day one. He was not an asset. I believe the program is better off without him. So Rick, you've got your work cut out for you. Lets see how you do.

Here's a few recommendations.

1.) Louisville needs help in the paint, both offensively and defensively. Play Anas Mahmoud along with Montrezl Harrell and Wayne Blackshear.

2.) Start Quentin Snider at one guard spot. The kid can play, he will make mistakes, you will need to allow them. The upside to this kid far out weighs the downside. He is a Jerry Eaves throw back, check out the film for the 1980 championship team.

3. Run more of Denny Crum's high low offense it will give you way more looks from your big men.

4. Continue to press and apply pressure.

5. Work with Mangok Mathiang to learn how to finish down low. Give Shaqquan Aaron more room to make mistakes, once he gets his confidence he will provide some points for you.

7. Do not play Anton Gill. He cannot shoot at all and he commits way too many turnovers.

8. Play David Levitch more and encourage him to shoot. He is a pure shooter and we need the points.

9. Rick Pitino needs to save time outs. He needs to save at least two for the final minutes of the game.

10. Utlilize the two for one in the final minutes of the game. You always want to have the last shot no matter what.

11. Pitino should not yank players everytime they make a mistake, you mess up the flow of the game by excessive substituting . He needs to give his players time to work through their mistakes. Do not substitute excessively in the first half unless your players are in foul trouble. Your goal is to have a lead at half time. You run the risk of disrupting the flow of the game by over substituting.

If you follow this advice Louisville will go deep in the tournament.