Tennessee Could Make Community College Free For Older Adults

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The Tennessee State House has passed a new bill allowing "older adults" to access two years of community college or technical school for free, according to CNN. This last dollar program, called Tennessee Reconnect, would cover fees and tuition for adults aged 24 and older, after all grants and scholarships are applied.

Tennessee Reconnect is essentially an extension of another program, Tennessee Promise, which was launched to enable all high school seniors graduating after 2015 to enroll in two years of community college or technical education for free. Tennessee Reconnect, which passed the House 87-6 on Thursday, would allow those who graduated before 2015 to receive the same benefits.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam proposed the Tennessee Reconnect grant program during his State of the State address as part of his "Drive to 55" initiative.

"It's an effort to the year 2025 that at least 55% of working age Tennessee residents have some sort of post high school degree or credential," Rick Locker, a representative for the Tennessee Board of Regents, told CNN.

The Tennessee Promise program is also part of the Drive to 55 initiative.

According to current estimates, the Tennessee Reconnect program would cost roughly $11.2 million per year. However, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission reported that the money for this program would come from the state's lottery proceeds, not from taxpayers.

If Tennessee Reconnect passes the State Senate and makes its way to Haslam's desk, it will go into effect in the fall of 2018.

Tennessee is not the only state launching efforts to make college more accessible, though it would certainly be the first state to offer such widespread college access if Tennessee Reconnect is signed into law. Oregon has a program called Oregon Promise — similar to Tennessee Promise — that offers free tuition to high school graduates, primarily at two-year public colleges.

Recently, New York state made headlines for its Excelsior Scholarship program, a last dollar program spearheaded by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo after Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders pushed for tuition-free college during the presidential election.

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The difference between New York's program and those in Tennessee and Oregon is that the Excelsior Scholarship program aims to be the first of its kind by covering four-year public colleges as well. However, according to The New York Times, the program would likely not be of much help to the state's poorest students, and critics are concerned that it will only help a small portion of the middle-class students that it is targeting.

Nevertheless, the subject of making college more financially accessible is not likely to make a departure from the national stage anytime soon — other states either have already started or need to start finding ways to make a college education a more realistic possibility for all students.