Editor’s Note: Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the status of the community college tuition bill. It has passed the Tennessee House but the Senate has not yet voted on it.
It’s back to school in Tennessee, but not for the kids.
The state House passed a bill that would fund two years of community college or technical school for “older adults” for free. The bill now goes to the state Senate.
The program is called Tennessee Reconnect, and it’s a last dollar program, which means that the state will cover all tuition and fees after grants and scholarships have been applied.
But who counts as “older adults?”
Luckily, almost everyone. The age requirement for an older adult is over 24 years old.
But there are exceptions. For instance, even those who are not 24 can qualify if they are legally emancipated, married, have a dependent, or serve in the military.
That’s because Tennessee Reconnect picks up where another program, Tennessee Promise, leaves off.
Tennessee Promise was initiated to give all high school seniors access to two years free of community college and technical education. But it only applied to those who graduated high school after 2015.
When Tennessee Reconnect goes into effect in the fall of 2018, everyone else can have those benefits as well.
The governor’s initiative
Governor Bill Haslam introduced both programs as a part of his “Drive to 55” initiative.
“It’s an effort to the year 2025 that at least 55% of working age Tennessee residents have some sort of post high school degree or credential,” Rick Locker, a representative for the Tennessee Board of Regents, told CNN.
The state was at 33.8% of Tennessee residents with post-high school certifications in 2013, when the goal was announced. Now, before Tennessee Reconnect has even gone into effect, the number has increased to 38.8%.
Tennessee Reconnect alone is estimated to cost $11.2 million per year, but the Tennessee Higher Education Commission says that the program will be funded by the lottery for education account, not the taxpayers.
The House passed the bill 87-6 on Thursday, and it has been eagerly awaited.
“When the governor announced the Tennessee Reconnect in his state of the state address, I was watching,” says Locker. “That was one of the points of applause.”