Tennessee Reconnect aims to make community college tuition free - WSMV News 4

Tennessee Reconnect aims to make community college tuition free for adults

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The Tennessee Promise program has resulted in an increase in enrollment at community colleges. (WSMV) The Tennessee Promise program has resulted in an increase in enrollment at community colleges. (WSMV)

Tennessee could be the first state in the country to open up free tuition for community college for all residents if Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed expansion to Tennessee Promise if approved by state lawmakers.

The Tennessee Reconnect Act would allow any adult to attend community college for free if that person meets the eligibility requirements.

According to the proposal, you must be a Tennessee resident for at least a year before applying, be admitted to a community college and attend at least part-time, complete the FAFSA and be deemed an independent student, and you can’t already have an associate or bachelor degree.

Alicia Marshall, 36, is one of those non-traditional college students, and she’s determined to finish what she started 18 years ago.

“I got caught up in the whole partying thing and what it means to not be living at home and making your own decisions,” said Marshall, who attends Volunteer State Community College.

This is Marshall’s second round at college, and she said stepping foot into a classroom again was nerve-wrecking.

“My son is almost 14 and I was just thinking I’m going to be in class with a bunch of kids who are just a little bit older than my son, and they’ll notice,” said Marshall, who is earning her associate degree in science before transferring to MTSU for her bachelor’s degree. “They’ll be able to tell immediately I’m older. I’m going to stand out.”

The experience has been great for Marshall, who balances life as a wife and mother of two. Gov. Haslam wants to help more adults like her who wish to earn a degree.

“I’ve really worked hard with my studies to try to get other, I guess, benefits financially towards school, but I think it’s great. I think so many people would take advantage of that,” Marshall said.

Haslam said it would cost $10 million when it’s fully implemented and it would be paid for through the state lottery’s education account.

More enrollment means more demand on community colleges. Volunteer State Director of Admissions and College Registrar Tim Amyx said it’s a problem they hope to have.

“I think what they’ll find when they get here is there’s a whole lot of people just like them,” Amyx said. “There’s a whole lot of people here to help, and there’s actually nothing to be scared of.”

State lawmakers will decide this legislative session whether to pass Haslam's Tennessee Reconnect Act. 

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