Although it's still unclear what kind of ramifications Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam's proposed community college reform will have on four-year universities, it seems to me he might have hit the nail on the head this time.
At his State of the State speech last Monday, the governor unveiled his plan to provide two years of free tuition to community college or technical school for high school graduates.
The plan, called the "Tennessee Promise," is a groundbreaking move in education and is a huge component of Haslam's Drive to 55 Initiative. The "Drive" refers to Haslam's goal of raising the percent of Tennesseans with a certificate or degree to 55 percent (right now it hovers around 32). This initiative comes in response to projected data that in 11 years, 55 percent of jobs will require some form of secondary education.
When I heard about the governor's "Promise," my initial reaction was not exactly positive. My first instinct was to object to merit-based scholarship money (the HOPE) being reallocated for students that may not have been as dedicated in high school. The more I read about the initiative, however, the more it seems like a creative, dynamic move that could have a real impact on the lives of a lot of students.
If the "Tennessee Promise" goes into effect, Haslam will use money from the Tennessee HOPE scholarship to make two-year degrees completely free for all Tennessee graduates. Students who are using the HOPE to attend four year universities would now receive $3,000 their first two years instead of $4,000, and if they reach their junior and senior year that amount would increase to $5,000.
When you look at the final outcome, the money isn't necessarily being taken from university students, just reorganized and distributed in a different way. The total amount still equals $16,000.
Given the amount of students who lose the HOPE or drop out after their first year of college (it was estimated at 30 percent in 2010), this monetary reorganization makes perfect sense.
Concerns have been raised about the effect of this initiative on smaller universities such as UT-Chattanooga and UT-Martin, mainly that their enrollment numbers could drop as more students opt for the free community college option. It has also been speculated Tennessee could see a huge increase in the number of people who move here in order to get a free education.
These points certainly have merit and are worth discussing, but they don't stop me from applauding the governor for doing something that could potentially move Tennessee forward in significant ways. In fact, this is the first initiative I have seen in Tennessee in a long time that actually has a clear, comprehensive purpose.
Gov. Haslam's initiative has reminded me there are, in fact, still competent and creative lawmakers alive and kicking in the Volunteer state.
Lately, I have felt increasingly frustrated with and grossly misrepresented by our state legislature and their pointless bills, including the most recent one sponsored by State Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville.
The bill protects local businesses from lawsuits if they decide to deny service to potential customers on "religious grounds." In short, you don't have to do business with gay people if you would rather be discriminant than make money.
Another example of the profound strides the legislature has made this year is their 26-7 decision to make carrying firearms in parks legal in Tennessee. While this was previously left up to local governments, the state took it upon themselves to make sure we can all take our guns with us while we walk our dogs. Thank God, I was really concerned they wouldn't address this profoundly important issue.
In sum, I applaud the governor for doing something that actually has substance and could be positive for the state. While the "Tennessee Promise" still has kinks to work out before we can fully examine its impact on education, I'm heartened he is at least trying to do something that could actually help students and not just sitting around thinking of ways to make Tennesseans look like a bunch of gun-toting homophobes.
Katie Dean is a junior in political science. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.