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Tennesee Promise program offers opportunity with high hurdles for many struggling college students
Program offers free tuition to in-state high school graduates, provided they keep up their GPA, but did high school gyp them on study skills? - photo by Eric Schulzke
A new policy in Tennessee is making is offering two years of free tuition to all high school graduates to community colleges or technical schools. The offer, funded by the state's lottery, seems to have made a difference, as state higher education enrollment this year jumped to nearly 51,000, up from 46,000 the year before.

Last week, state colleges were still scrambling to recruit mentors to help students entering the program succeed. Mentors, recruited from the state's business community, volunteer to check in with students at intervals during the semester to help keep them on track.

The Daily News Journal reported that "the number of mentors recruited spiked during the last three weeks as Promise reached out to businesses and companies across the state. ... State officials need 122 more mentors to meet its goal of 8,075 by Friday."

"Tennessee Promise is a key component of Haslam's 'Drive to 55' initiative, which aims to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with a degree or certificate beyond high school from the current 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025 in order to help improve overall job qualifications and attract employers to the state," The Chattanooga Time Free Press reports.

Schools are beefing up on staff to serve and retain students who would not have jumped straight into college without the Tennessee Promise program, while some students are struggling.

The Tennessean profiled one student, Jonathan Dyer, who is studying to be an emergency medical technician and does fine in his applied work but struggles in lecture-based classrooms.

"This is hard harder than I thought it would be," Dyer told the Tennessean. "High school didn't teach me how to study. So this has kind of kicked my butt."

The Tennessean notes that Tony Kinkel, president of Motlow State Community College, "hired eight 'completion coaches' who are tasked with helping students overcome a wide range of hurdles, from poor study skills to balancing homework with a work schedule. Many other colleges across the state have added similar positions to accommodate a surge of Tennessee Promise students."
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