Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam plans to make two-year community college and technical schools free for state residents who have high school diplomas or equivalency degrees, regardless of financial need. During his State of the State address last Monday, Haslam explained that the program would cost very little ($34 million per year, which would come from the state lottery) and give the state a better-education workforce. Haslam explained to The New York Times that he hopes the plan would also have a psychological as well as an economic effect:
“[Community college] is more affordable than most people think, but if they don’t know that, that doesn’t help us,” […] “If we can go to people and say, ‘This is totally free,’ that gets their attention.”
Similar ideas have been floated in states like Mississippi and Oregon as well, but the program is not without its critics. Inside Higher Ed reports that some worry the state would be wasting money on students who don’t need it; others worry that the program would discourage students from getting a four-year degree.Given that we’ve said before that the four-year college experience isn’t necessarily for everyone, this last complaint in particular isn’t too worrying. In fact, we note that the Tennessee plan would also eliminate tuition at the state’s vocational schools, the 27 Colleges of Applied Technology. This seems like a smart, win-win way to help the prospective students who are most in need of help.