NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A program that offers free tuition for Tennessee high school graduates attending community colleges and technical schools has boosted retention rates at some schools.
"It's really our biggest challenge," said Eric Melcher, spokesman for Volunteer State Community College. "It's not enough to have students come to college, we want them to be successful in college and that takes a lot of work for a community college because we're taking everyone in."
About 45 percent of non-Tennessee Promise students who attended Vol State in Fall 2015 returned to campus for their second year. But data shows that number jumps to nearly 60 percent for students receiving Tennessee Promise dollars.
"My first plan was to go to Fisk University and study music there," said student Sheena Wynne. "But then my high school counselor explained the program."
Wynne said the draw of free tuition changed her plans. She now attends Vol State to study early childhood education, while saving money to eventually transfer to a four year university.
She said the Tennessee Promise holds students to a certain standard.
"You have to have a 2.0 GPA or else you lose it," she said.
Melcher said that requirement isn't always enough to motivate students. He said Vol State employs several counselors and programs aimed at helping students at risk of dropping out or failing a class.
But he said Tennesse Promise has drawn a significant number of new students to campus, which is sometimes half the battle.
"From the college perspective this certainly has been a success," Melcher said. "We've got more students in college now, in community college, I think it shows they're doing better than the general student population which is exciting for us."
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