Tenn. Governor Calls For Tuition-Free Community College

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Tennessee may become the first U.S. state to guarantee two free years of community college or vocational training for high school graduates — regardless of students' academic merit or financial need.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam joins Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson to discuss the proposed initiative.

Interview Highlights: Gov. Bill Haslam

On why many Tennesseans aren't going to college

"It's our estimate that about 10 years from now, 55 percent of the jobs that will exist in Tennessee will require a certificate or a degree beyond high school. Unfortunately, right now, that number is closer to 32 percent. So what we want to do is take one of the most significant barriers out of post-secondary attainment — that would be cost — and take that out of the equation."

"Cost is a factor. I think for a large part of the population, you know, there's just a lot of folks who never saw that in the realm of possibility. Nobody in their family ever went to school beyond high school, and so they didn't grow up thinking, 'Oh, in my senior year I'll take the ACT, I'm gonna fill out the financial aid form and then I'm gonna go to school after high school.' That's not in the mindset. And so what we have to do is change the paradigm for those folks."

On how the state will afford the program

"We've done the math. Obviously, I wouldn't propose it if we couldn't. And so the state has a lottery program that helps fund scholarships for higher ed now. It's built up a reserve. We're going to transfer the reserve to create an endowment. It won't be something that's just available if we have a good year versus not. It will be an endowment; truly, it will be a promise."

On surprised reactions that this is a Republican plan

"Somehow, we've gotten the brand of being people who aren't about creating more opportunity, which is exactly who we should be. I think we've spent a lot of time trying to correct the ills of society after people haven't had the opportunity to good education. There's no doubt you can trace everything from healthcare costs and corrections facility populations, and it's directly correlated to education obtainment. We think making this investment on the front end is a smart way to do government."


This segment aired on February 6, 2014.


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