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Tennessee Students Start Classes Under Tuition-Free College Program

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By guest blogger Liana Heitin

This week, an expected 18,000 students—or nearly 1 in 4 recent high school graduatesin Tennessee will begin classes under a new state program that offers two years of free tuition at a state community or technical college. 

Nearly 80 percent of the state's 74,000 high school graduates applied for the Tennessee Promise scholarship, according to the Associated Press. 

The scholarship provides tuition and fees not covered by the Pell grant, the state HOPE scholarship, or state student assistance funds. Mike Krause, the Tennessee Promise executive director, told the Tennessean that the process for applying for federal student aid is confusing and may have served as a barrier for some students. "There's no doubt we need to continue to push for a simplified process," he said. Of the 58,000 high school seniors that applied for the scholarship, about 31,500 filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms.

Gov. Bill Haslam, who created the program, is visiting campuses this week as classes begin. The program is part of the Republican governor's "Drive to 55" initiative, which aims to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with a college degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2025. When he announced the program in 2013, just 32 percent of Tennesseans had such qualifications.

Leaders in other states have also proposed plans to increase college affordability and access, though some of those have failed to come to fruition. The Tennessee program also inspired President Obama's proposal to make two years of community college free for all Americans, which has yet to gain traction on Capitol Hill. 

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