Next year's high school graduates in Tennessee will be able to attend community colleges and technical schools for free under a new initiative called the Tennessee Promise.
The program starts with those graduating high school in 2015, and while state educators say they do expect to have enough capacity for all of the qualifying students, it might not be the case for every campus and every major.
Gov. Bill Haslam spearheaded Tennessee Promise, which will offer scholarships to cover two years of community college tuition or technical school to qualifying high school graduates.
It comes a year too late for current Nashville State students, but they say they like the idea.
"We could have used it last year," said student Yonatan Menghistu.
The Tennessee Board of Regents is expecting more than 5,000 additional students who would not have applied otherwise.
"On a statewide basis, we certainly can accommodate that number," said TBR Chancellor John Morgan.
Morgan says, physically, the state's schools have the facilities they need for the projected enrollment increase.
Tennessee's two-year colleges are right now in a bit of an enrollment slump. There are 8,000 or 9,000 fewer students in community colleges now than there were a few years ago, during the peak of the recession.
"We had record growth in enrollments. Now that the recovery is well underway, we've seen the numbers decline somewhat," Morgan said.
The regents expect some schools to have more capacity than others.
Nashville State and Motlow State have had high enrollment, and other schools like Columbia State and Vol State have room.
Many programs will have openings, but others could have waiting lists, including nursing programs.
Students' tuition costs are being covered by lottery money. But tuition only typically covers about half the cost of providing that education. The state will have to come up with the funds to cover the rest.
Morgan expects the governor and legislators will support the program because it changes the conversation students and parents will have about college.
"'Well, I know I can go to college. What do I need to do to prepare for that?'" Morgan said.
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