For most of his time in office, Gov. Bill Haslam has been doing his part to eliminate the biggest barrier preventing Tennesseans from pursuing higher education: cost.
That’s why several of the programs in his Drive to 55 initiative are aimed at making higher education more affordable for Tennesseans. One of these programs, the Tennessee Promise, is already seeing results.
The Tennessee Promise provides high school graduates with two years of tuition-free enrollment at any of Tennessee’s community colleges. This year, the first “class” of Tennessee Promise students will finish its two years of tuition-free community college and graduate with associate degrees.
Many of these graduates will be able to kick off successful careers armed with their associate degrees and without any college debt to weigh them down. Others may want to use their two years at community college as a steppingstone to higher degrees.
That’s where another of Gov. Haslam’s affordable options comes in: WGU Tennessee. WGU Tennessee has thrived in its four years here and has helped more than 2,000 Tennesseans earn bachelor’s or master’s degrees. Yet it is still a well-kept secret for many people in our state.
WGU Tennessee, the online university that the Tennessee Legislature and Haslam established in 2013, has stepped up to the plate for the first class of Tennessee Promise students. As the students finish their community college this year, WGU Tennessee has launched the Fulfilling the Promise scholarship, which will offer 20 summer and spring graduates from any of Tennessee’s community colleges scholarships worth up to $2,000 each.
This scholarship comes in addition to WGU Tennessee’s existing partnership with all 13 community colleges in Tennessee — including Pellissippi State right here in Knoxville — through which any graduate receives a 5 percent discount on tuition at WGU Tennessee.
WGU Tennessee’s competency-based learning model is designed for students who work full time, allowing them to work at their own pace around their busy schedules. It’s no wonder its program is so popular: Already, more than 135 Knox County residents have graduated from the nonprofit university, and more than 200 are currently enrolled.