Universities Play Up 2-Year Degrees To Attract Tennessee Promise Students | Nashville Public Radio

Universities Play Up 2-Year Degrees To Attract Tennessee Promise Students

Feb 17, 2015

The conversation around Tennessee Promise has focused largely on community colleges. What’s lesser known is that the funding can be used at a number of four-year schools in the state as well — specifically, those that offer associate degrees — and some are trying hard to recruit Tennessee Promise students.

At Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, the governor’s free community college initiative raised some eyebrows after he announced it.

“I must admit, we were a little frightened by it at first," says Ted Brown, president of the small, Christian four-year school. “It’s just incredibly competitive out there. We fight tooth and nail to recruit students. It’s hard to compete with free, I think is the right way to say it.”

But Martin Methodist offers both bachelors and associate degrees — and if graduating high school seniors enroll in the latter, they can still use Tennessee Promise money.

It won’t make Martin Methodist free, the way it covers the cost of community college tuition. Tennessee Promise will pay up to about $4,000 per year — the average cost of community college in the state — and Martin Methodist's tuition costs $21,000.

So the school plans to match the state’s money with its own financial aid funds, which will get a student close to halfway. This, Brown says, will help it compete for Tennessee Promise applicants.

Benefits Of Tennessee Promise

But other four-year schools are courting those same students.

Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, for example, has a handful of associate degree programs, and it's been putting out TV, radio and newspaper ads specifically targeting Tennessee Promise students.

“We’ve advertised throughout the state, actually," says media relations director Bill Persinger. "We placed ads in the Memphis area, Chattanooga, Knoxville.”

In the end, Tennessee Promise might actually boost enrollment at some four-year schools.

Thanks in part to the ad campaign, Persinger says, Austin Peay had a huge turnout at a recent campus visit day. At Martin Methodist, there are already more applications this year than last.

How Is Tennessee Promise Funded?

First, a student has to apply for federal and state financial aid — low-income students might get their tuition completely covered by federal grants. Some students will also receive the state's Hope Scholarship, which will pay freshmen and sophomores $3,000 to $3,500 per year, depending on the institution.

The state refers to Tennessee Promise as a "last-dollar scholarship": tuition and fees of a community/ technical college minus whatever state and federal grants a student receives. For some students, the state may have to put in $0. For others, the state will put in $500. Still others (paradoxically, those that are relatively wealthy) will not be eligible for financial aid, and the state will pay the entire cost of community college tuition and fees. That money comes out of Tennessee's lottery reserves.

Got that?

Now, if a student decides to enroll in an associate degree program at a four-year school, Tennessee Promise will use the same formula: It will put in the average tuition and fees of community college minus whatever state and federal grants a student receives. Say you want to enroll in Martin Methodist College, and you're already getting a $3,500 Hope Scholarship. Tennessee Promise will only give you about $500 more. 

Parents and students: What are your experiences with Tennessee Promise? We want to hear from you! Email reporter Emily Siner at esiner@wpln.org.