Students across the state are spending part of their summer performing the eight hours of community service required each semester for their Tennessee Promise college scholarships, including hundreds who did volunteer work at Tennessee State Parks last weekend.
Students must register their community service by 11:59 p.m. Aug. 1 to remain eligible for Tennessee Promise assistance for the upcoming fall semester – one of the last requirements on a student’s Tennessee Promise checklist before starting classes. Students can submit their community service online on the Tennessee Promise website.
Tennessee Promise provides two years free of tuition and most fees at community colleges and Tennessee colleges of applied technology (TCATs) – or the equivalent funding at four-year universities and participating private institutions offering associate degrees.
Tennessee State Parks hosted “Tennessee Promise Service Saturday” July 23 to give students a chance to complete their service requirement by working on park improvements and helping rangers with other activities.
Students who need help finding service opportunities can visit www.tnachieves.org for a list of events and organizations in need of volunteers. Qualifying service is time contributed to a non-profit or public service organization, with the community benefitting from the work. Work must be supervised by an employee of the organization or its volunteer coordinator. As examples, tutoring students at a community center or working in an organized environmental clean-up event qualify, but babysitting for a friend and picking up litter during a hike with friends do not.
Officials at the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR), the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC) and the three non-profit organizations working with TSAC to coordinate mentoring and community service requirements across the state, are encouraging students to submit their work as soon as possible. The Aug. 1 deadline applies to both the high school Class of 2016 entering college in August and September, as well as Class of 2015 students returning for their second year.
“The deadline is critical for our Tennessee Promise students. It’s a prerequisite for receiving Promise financial aid for the classes they’ll be attending later this summer,” TBR Chancellor David Gregory said. The TBR system includes the state’s 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology and six universities.
Dr. Warren Nichols, TBR vice chancellor of community colleges, said preliminary information from the coordinating organizations “indicates that our returning Class of 2015 students are lagging behind in submitting their community service hours, while Class of 2016 students are ahead of projections. We know some students wait until the last minute to submit but we strongly encourage them to get their work done and submitted so that any questions or problems that might arise can get resolved before the deadline.”
The coordinating organizations are tnAchieves, which serves students in most of Tennessee’s 95 counties; the Regional Economic Development Initiative (REDI), serving students in Chester, Crockett, Fayette, Gibson, Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood and Tipton counties, and The Ayers Foundation, serving students in Decatur, Henderson and Perry counties.
“We want our students to cultivate a culture of giving back that remains with them throughout their life,” said Krissy DeAlejandro, tnAchieves executive director. “While critical to remaining TN Promise eligible, this provides students with the opportunity to pursue their passions and/or explore potential career paths.”
Tennessee Promise was proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam and approved by the Tennessee General Assembly in 2014 as a scholarship and mentoring program to increase college attendance – a key component of the Governor’s Drive to 55 initiative aimed at increasing the percentage of working-age Tennesseans with post-secondary degrees and certificates to 55 percent by 2025. The Promise provides students with last-dollar scholarships, meaning that it pays tuition and fees not covered by the federal Pell Grant, the state’s Hope Scholarship and other financial aid.
Tennessee high school graduates beginning with the Class of 2015 are eligible, and 16,291 enrolled in the first Promise class in fall 2015, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission reported. They contributed to a 10.1 percent increase in overall first-time freshman enrollment in Tennessee public higher education from fall 2014 to fall 2015.
A separate program, Tennessee Reconnect, helps adults return to school.
Although removing the financial burden is important, other Tennessee Promise requirements also are critical to student success — particularly for first-generation and minority students traditionally underrepresented in college – including the mentoring each student receives as they navigate the admissions and financial aid process. Each student who signs up for Tennessee Promise is assigned a mentor, most of whom are volunteers. Students must also participate in two mandatory group meetings at high schools in their home counties, which also help prepare them for college.
The application process for Tennessee Promise begins in the fall of a student’s senior year in high school. In the high school Class of 2016, 59,598 students applied for the Promise last fall. Of those, 49,034 filed their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) – the second item on the Promise student checklist of requirements. Of those, 41,154 attended their first mandatory group meeting and 35,194 attended their second group meeting. FAFSA is required for Pell Grants, Hope Scholarships and most other financial aid. Promise students must also meet with their mentors and apply for enrollment in college. Actual enrollment figures for fall 2016 will be compiled in September.
The deadline to apply for Tennessee Promise for 2017 high school graduates is Nov. 1, 2016.