Tennessee Promise: Community College Tuition is Free!


Have a family member going to high school in the state? If so, did you know that the student could be eligible to attend a two-year community or technical college free of tuition?

In 2012, the Lumina Foundation found that a third of Tennesseans had a two- or four-year college degree. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative aims to raise that to 55 percent with the help of Tennessee Promise, a scholarship and mentoring program that gives graduating high school students in the state the opportunity to attend a two-year community or technical college without the need to pay tuition and mandatory fees.

For high school students graduating in 2017, the application process is going on now. Students who are interested need to apply for the Tennessee Promise scholarship by Nov. 1.

How Tennessee Promise Works

High school graduates who complete the scholarship requirements receive two years of tuition-free education at any of the state’s 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology or other eligible institutions that offer an associate degree program.

  • All students are paired with a mentor who supports them during the college application process.
  • The program offers a “last-dollar” scholarship, which means it pays for tuition and fees not covered by the Pell Grant, the Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarship (TELS), including HOPE, or funds from the Tennessee Student Assistance Award (TSAA) program at a public two-year college.
  • Scholarship recipients must complete eight hours of community service with a nonprofit or public service organization before each term in which they are scheduled to receive funding for enrollment. For example, students graduating from high school in 2018 must complete and report their community service by July 1, 2018.
    • Students are also encouraged to complete the community service requirement in their career field of interest to gain experience in that profession. (This means that job shadowing and unpaid internships may count.) However, the organization’s employee or volunteer coordinator must supervise all volunteer work. In addition, all community service hours must be submitted through the community service online form found on the tnAchieves website.

Important Deadlines for Students

To participate in the program, Tennessee high school students must meet the following requirements and deadlines.

By Nov. 1, 2017: Apply to the Tennessee Promise program. A local partnering organization will contact participating students to help them complete their requirements.

By Jan. 16, 2018: File the 2018-19 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). In 2016, two major changes were made to FAFSA that made the application process more timely for students and potentially easier to complete.

1. Students and their families will be able to start the FAFSA application process on Oct. 1, 2017, three months earlier than under the old timeline.

2. Families will no longer have to estimate their income on the application.

Beginning with the 2017-18 FAFSA process students were able to report income information from two years prior (not one year prior), which in this case is 2016 income information, and, in most cases, link it directly from the IRS online.

In the fall or spring: Attend the first mandatory meeting coordinated by a partnering organization. Meeting dates will vary by high school. Find a student’s meeting date listed under their high school.

By Spring 2018: Apply to a community college or technical college.

By July 1, 2018: Complete and report the first eight hours of community service. See examples of approved activities.

By Fall of 2018: If selected, provide requested documentation to complete FAFSA verification.

Additional Scholarship Requirements for Enrolled Students

  • They must enroll full-time and maintain satisfactory academic progress (2.0 GPA or higher).
  • They must complete and report eight hours of community service per term enrolled (by July 1 for fall semester, December 1 for spring semester, April 1 for summer semester).
  • They must complete the FAFSA by the January deadline every year of the program.

Scholarship funds will be given directly to the school once the student’s enrollment is confirmed. If a student does not complete all of the Tennessee Promise program requirements and meet all the deadlines, he or she will not be eligible for Tennessee Promise funding.

If students want to use the Tennessee Promise scholarship at an eligible four-year college, they must enroll in an associate degree program at that school—not a bachelor’s degree program. At a four-year institution, the Tennessee Promise scholarship is not a last-dollar program, meaning it will not cover all tuition and fees. The amount of funding students will receive will be based on the average amount of tuition and fees at a community college, which is estimated to be $4,000.

Learn More About …

Tennessee Promise. Sign up for email updates; find a student checklist and resources for parents and counselors; and volunteer to mentor students going through the program.

Tennessee’s Community Colleges. Learn more about Tennessee’s system of 13 public, two-year colleges with more than 65 locations across the state.

Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs). Learn more about Tennessee’s 27 colleges of applied technology.

Drive to 55 Alliance. Private sector partners, leaders and nonprofits are working together in this rapidly growing effort to support Gov. Haslam and the state of Tennessee’s new initiative to raise the state’s percentage of college graduates significantly. The goal of the alliance is for 55 percent of Tennesseans to have a college degree or certificate by 2025.