The Debate Over Free Tuition For Some Tennessee College Students

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(Memphis) In his State of the State address, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam dropped an education bombshell that could impact whether more high school seniors attend the state's two-year colleges versus attending four-year institutions.

"We will promise that he or she(students) can attend two years of community college or a college of applied technology absolutely free," Haslam said

The Haslam free tuition plan is called Tennessee Promise, but to pay for it the governor is proposing a new endowment that would transfer $302 million from the Tennessee Lottery Hope Scholarship reserve funds.

University of Memphis students Kristin Ayers and Steven Williams say they see the pros and the cons of the plan.

"It could benefit the community college student, but it's also going to be taking away from students like me and I had to pay for four years of school. It's kind of like a Catch 22. It can help, but it can hurt too," Ayers said.

"Anything that gets students in college and higher education is good," Williams said.

Part of the Haslam funding plan would come from reducing the Hope Scholarship from its current $4,000 per year at four-year schools to $3,000 for each of the freshman and sophomore years and then increasing it to $5,000 for the junior and senior years.

"There will still be $110 million in the lottery reserve, which I believe is a healthy amount. Net cost to the state? Zero. Net impact on our future? Priceless," Haslam said.

Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen, known as the father of the Tennessee Lottery, is in Washington this week, but he told WREG by phone the Haslam plan will hurt Hope Scholarships and four-year colleges in Memphis.

"This is a death knell for the hope scholarship. it's going to hurt four-year colleges. it will hurt the University of Memphis, which is already losing students to community colleges and people not being able to afford it and it will hurt LeMoyne Owen because they're encouraging people to go to community colleges," Cohen said.

The proposal still must be approved by members of the Tennessee General Assembly.


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