The Tennessee Promise Scholarship Act of 2014 sailed through the state House of Representatives by a vote of 87-8 Tuesday evening and is now awaiting Gov. Bill Haslam's signature.
The bill, the first of its kind in the U.S., will likely rework the educational landscape of Tennessee.
The scholarship, unveiled by Haslam at his State of the State address on Feb. 3, will provide two-and-a-half years of free tuition at any qualifying post-secondary institution for the purpose of attaining an associate's degree or two-year technical certificate.
The scholarship is targeting recent high school graduates who may not otherwise pursue a post-secondary education.
The bill will give "that other group that never got to college," access to higher education, state Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said.
Only students that attend an institution offering two-year programs will be eligible to apply.
The bill is a last-dollar scholarship, meaning it will only cover tuition after other financial aid, such as need-based scholarships and Pell grants, have been applied.
The Promise is estimated to cost $34 million a year, and will be funded primarily through a one-time transfer of $300 million in excess lottery fund reserves — in addition to a $47 million endowment created by the General Assembly in 2013.
The remaining $100 million in lottery funds will still go toward fulfillment of the HOPE scholarship, to be assisted by a $10 million cushion.
Those enrolled at community colleges will receive $3,000 a year. Students at four-year institutions will receive $3,500 during their freshman and sophomore years, and juniors and seniors $4,500 a year, still guaranteeing qualifying students a $16,000 cumulative scholarship.
The eligibility for HOPE recipients was also changed, so that the scholarship will expire at either 120 attempted hours or eight semesters, whichever occurs last.
These changes will only affect students who start in fall 2015 and after.
Recipients of the Promise must show progress toward a degree and participate in regular community service and mentoring, the latter of which McCormick called "incredibly important" to student success.
A last-minute amendment to keep the HOPE distribution at $4,000 a year, introduced by Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, was not taken up by the House.
The Promise is part of Haslam's Drive to 55 Initiative, which seeks to have 55 percent of Tennesseans hold some form of higher education by the year 2025. Haslam said in his Feb. 3 address that only 32 percent of residents currently meet this criteria.