Adam Tamburin’s story in Saturday’s Tennessean had a simplistic headline — Success of Tennessee Promise hinges on student retention.
But patience will be far more important than retention in the early years of the statewide scholarship and mentoring program that was established just last year. While everyone wants immediate results to indicate huge progress, that’s not the way Promise programs go. Instead, early results are much more likely to be used as a hammer by critics.
There will be a lot of new types of students in both community colleges and colleges of applied technology thanks to the Tennessee Promise. Will their high school educations prove to be aligned to college expectations? Well, that’s one of the things a Promise program can identify. It is a long-term program that can make systemic change and alignment, but if its success hinges on immediate success, expect it to be seen as a failure.
State officials need to be addressing just that — achieving an end result doesn’t happen on a linear path. The more they learn about behaviors and adapt to what they discover, the more the Tennessee Promise will grow. Year one is pretty much about establishing a baseline. It’s more about learning than it is about expecting accomplishment. It’s about making sure pieces are in place to begin to analyze the results than to fret over the results themselves.
Yet this Tennessean story has already made assumptions, saying that data indicates the current approach by Tennessee community colleges has “not been successful” based upon 41 percent of first-year freshman not returning the following year. Yet there is no explanation of that number. Are students leaving because they have been underprepared by their high schools? Must they work long hours to simply survive and learn that the academic demands are too great to succeed at both?
We should be happy that the Tennessean is providing deep coverage of the Promise, but there is far too much to learn before making declarations about the success, or lack thereof, of the program. If folks want the Tennessee Promise to succeed, they’d do well not to submarine it by making judgments based on early indications.
Find patience, Tennesseans. Assess, discover, react, assess again. That can’t happen in a year.
Bill Haslam — the governor whose successful proposal of the Tennessee Promise has generated national attention — has the wind at his back these days. A recent poll from Middle Tennessee State University found that 79 percent of state residents approve of the program, including a whopping 90 percent of across-the-aisle Democrats.
With such support, Haslam has unveiled several new higher education proposals in his budget, including a $1.5-million pilot program intended for adults who are at least halfway to an associate’s degree. Those who qualify would receive the same benefit as recent high school graduates in the Tennessee Promise.
One of the results of the Promise is that four-year institutions in the state have already announced ways that they are making college more affordable in an effort to attract students who otherwise might be considering a community college option.
While the Tennessee Promise has received much acclaim, the four-year universities back in the Volunteer State have begun to react to the potential ramifications of the focus on community colleges.
One of the universities in the state system — the University of Tennessee at Martin in the rural northwest part of the state — has rolled out the UT Martin Advantage Scholarship and left no ambiguity in the written rationale. Straight from the Scholarship website:
This scholarship was developed in response to the reduction of the Tennessee Lottery Hope Scholarship. As a result of the Tennessee Promise, the Hope Scholarship dropped from $4,000 a year to $3,500 a year for freshmen and sophomores, and we want to give back to those who choose to seek a quality 4-year degree at UT Martin!
The website has multiple references to “the total collegiate experience” and “affordability.” It boasts of “scholarship opportunities comparable to the Tennessee Promise.” Clearly, this 7,000-student branch of the UT system isn’t going to wait to see how the state-wide initiative is going to impact it.
As we enter the final days of 2014, we look back at a significant year in the Promise movement as new Cities of Promise have emerged with innovative ways to fund scholarships and support students. Here’s a look back at some of the things that happened in the last 12 months:
• Tennessee went Promise mad as a huge percentage of the state’s high school seniors signed up for the Tennessee Promise, which Gov. Bill Haslam proposed and guided into law. The Promise will use proceeds from the state lottery to provide residents with free tuition at community colleges and colleges of applied technology beginning in the fall of 2015.
• The Seattle Promise — a bold new initiative from the Seattle Central Foundation — was established to provide a full scholarship to every student at Seattle Central College who demonstrates financial need, enrolls full time and maintains a 3.0 grade-point average. By eliminating financial need as a barrier to paying tuition, the Seattle Promise will allow low-income Seattle students of all ages — not just recent high school graduates — to pursue a higher education. Continue reading