Starting in fall of 2015, students will begin cashing in on Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam's "Promise."
In tandem with Haslam's proposed "Tennessee Promise," an initiative slated to grant Tennessee high school graduates two free years of community college or technical school, the HOPE scholarship will also undergo transformation.
Once implemented, the proposal will guarantee all qualifying students $3,000 a year during their freshmen and sophomore years, regardless of in-state academic institution attended. Upon reaching their junior year, students will receive $5,000 a year, guaranteeing students who attend traditional universities a $16,000 cumulative scholarship. Moreover, HOPE will provide funding until the student has taken eight full-time semesters, or attempted 120 hours, whichever occurs last.
Currently, students receive a yearly $4,000 in HOPE aid capped at 120 credit hours, a limit frequently met prematurely. Community college and technical school students receive just $2,000 per year in HOPE dollars.
According to Tim Phelps, associate executive for grant and scholarship programs with the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation, the adjustment isn't solely meant to keep the "Promise" affordable and fiscally stable. It will serve as an appealing economic alternative for students not academically prepared for a four-year university.
"By providing the same award amount for all entering freshmen, the less academically prepared student may be incentivized to attend the community college because of a lower cost," Phelps said.
Announced at Haslam's annual State of the State address on Feb. 3, Haslam proposed financing his "Promise" with roughly $300 million in excess Tennessee Lottery Fund money. Designed as a last dollar scholarship, "Promise" will fund only the remaining balance after other financial aid has been applied, excluding Pell grants and loans.
In his address, Haslam called the remaining $110 million in lottery funds a "healthy" amount to continue support for traditional university students.
According to the "Tennessee Promise" website, the $300 million transfer will be supplemented by a $47 million authorized by the state legislature in 2013.
The "Promise" is part of Gov. Haslam's Drive to 55 Initiative, which seeks to help 55 percent of Tennessee residents acquire some form of secondary education certificate by 2025. Haslam cited only 32 percent of Tennesseans as currently meeting that standard.
The "Promise" is expected to motivate high school guidance counselors to encourage students who would not otherwise further their education to enroll in the program.
Estimated to cost $34 million a year, "Promise" also accounts for an extra semester, given the 70 percent of high school graduates who will require remedial coursework.
By providing a cheaper avenue for students to graduate from a four year university by way of community college, many expect a rise in transfer students coming to UT to finish their degree.
While Gina Stafford, vice president of communications and marketing, said it is "too soon to know" how the "Promise" will affect transfer rates at Knoxville, she stated all schools in the UT system will be studying the possible benefits and drawbacks of the change.
Phelps said the governor's office does not anticipate fluctuations in enrollment at four year universities, only the stabilization of the HOPE's fiscal health.
"The hope is that changes to the HOPE," Phelps said, "will remove the disincentive for students to attend a two-year institution."