Nashville is launching a new scholarship to make higher education completely free for many students. It's one of the first local government efforts in the nation to target non-tuition expenses, and it will help students at two colleges in Nashville beginning fall 2019.
Nashville GRAD — or Getting Results by Advancing Degrees — will work alongside the state’s two existing initiatives that waive community and technical college tuition: the Tennessee Promise for graduating high school seniors and Tennessee Reconnect for adults.
Some recent studies — one by the Tennessee nonprofit Complete Tennessee, another by the Nashville Public Education Foundation — found even though tuition is covered through these programs, many low-income students still struggle to complete their degrees.
That’s because they can’t afford expenses like textbooks, transportation and certifications, says Indira Dammu, education policy advisor for Mayor David Briley.
"We are a city that has a lot of economic opportunities. But not everyone in our city has access to them. And Nashville GRAD would really level the playing field," she said.
For the pilot next year, Metro government will budget $1 million and serve about 400 students at Nashville State Community College. In the pilot program, the scholarship will only be available to full-time Tennessee Promise students or those that are eligible for the Pell Grant, a type of federal financial aid.
But at full implementation, the city will provide $2.5 million to help 3,000 students annually, between Nashville State and the Tennessee College of Applied Technology. The goal is to make the scholarship available to part-time and full-time low-income students, and participants in Tennessee Promise and Reconnect.
Dammu says the city chose these schools to consider low-income and diverse students.
"We are thinking about equity as the primary lens when we are distributing funds," said Dammu.
Mayor David Briley says this type of scholarship is key to helping more students from low-income backgrounds complete their degrees and find work.
“We know that obtaining a degree or credential after high school can raise a person’s lifetime income by one-third, and by 2020, 60 percent of jobs will require some type of postsecondary degree. Giving Nashvillians the assistance they need to successfully reach this goal is vital to Nashville’s long-term prosperity," said Briley in a press release.
The city hopes Nashville GRAD will increase the number of graduates from Nashville State to at least 50 percent over three years and raise TCAT industry certifications to 66 percent by 2023.