One of the best thing Tennessee has done in the past few years is definitely instituting Tennessee Promise, which guarantees two free years of community college to anyone who graduates from a Tennessee high school. I am completely in favor of this plan, as I believe it has huge benefits for people on an individual level and for our state as a whole with the increased economic potential rising education levels bring.
I personally know people who were only able to go to college because of Tennessee Promise. They worked hard all through high school and made decent grades, but not enough for scholarships to cover four-year colleges. As their families are not financially able to pay the difference, going to a four-year college would not have been possible without taking out massive amounts of student loans, which were preached in our school’s mandatory Dave Ramsey personal finance class as a terrible idea, and actually are a terrible financial decision if you look at the math. Because of Tennessee Promise, they can go to community college for two years for free while they continue to work and save up money to transfer to Tennessee Tech for the next two years to get their bachelors degrees.
In today’s economy, with jobs in the situation that they are, a college degree is a necessity to be competitive and get hired at most decent-paying jobs. Unfortunately, college is ridiculously expensive for anyone who is not very rich, very smart, or very willing to go into a lot of debt. Though there are need-based scholarships and federal grants, these rarely cover all of the cost of college or even most of it. Because of this, programs to guarantee free college to all are important. They will not devalue college education, as admission standards will not change. Unqualified students will not suddenly go to college in large numbers, disenfranchised and poor students will. People say college is easy enough to afford if you are smart, but people from low-income families with parents who are gone all the time working are usually not going to be on a comparable level with people from middle-class families and the early-childhood development and support structure that frequently comes along with those. College is necessary to break this cycle and help people have better lives.