Adding to the fact that college costs already have been on the rise over the past decade, nationwide inflation now threatens the bank accounts – and aspirations – of many Tennessee students and their families. According to Knox News, the average annual costs of tuition and fees at Tennessee’s public colleges and universities are currently:

  • For 4-year universities: $9,900 per year
  • For community colleges: $4,600 per year
  • For colleges of applied technology: $4,000 per year

Plus, with student loans debts averaging $29,000 for Bachelor’s degree recipients and thousands of unsettling stories of large and unpaid debts, many students are hoping to avoid taking out loans to pay for higher education altogether. As a result, scholarships and grants are top-of-mind for many Tennessee high schoolers and rising college freshmen.

Thankfully, Tennessee offers affordable and game-changing options for its students through need-based and merit-based financial aid. Rutherford County Schools, specifically, provides students the opportunity to:

  • Earn college credit in high school.
  • Graduate from high school with an associate’s degree.
  • Learn about and explore career options on the job.

When combined, these resources, and others we will explore in this article, can translate to paying very little for college – or attending college for free.

Rutherford Works produces students equipped with the technical and soft skills needed for college and career success, no matter their chosen path. Learn more

Tennessee Promise Scholarship

Tennessee Promise is both a scholarship and mentoring program with the goal to increase the number of students that attend a postsecondary institution in the state. The scholarship’s biggest selling point: It will pay for the first 2 years of college at one of 13 eligible Tennessee Promise institutions for students enrolled in an associate degree program.

Recognized as a “last-dollar scholarship,” the Tennessee Promise Scholarship often covers tuition and other fees that are not covered by the Federal Pell Grant, HOPE Scholarship, or Tennessee Student Assistance Award. Recipients of the Tennessee Promise Scholarship also are assigned a mentor who will assist and help them navigate the college admission process.

Students must apply for the Tennessee Promise Scholarship by the November 1 deadline of the academic year they will graduate from high school (or complete home school or GED/HiSET program), and they must enroll in the fall semester after their graduation in order to receive it.

Help from tnAchieves

As the mentorship arm of the Tennessee Promise Scholarship, tnAchieves is a nonprofit that “exists to increase higher education opportunities for Tennessee high school students by providing last-dollar scholarships with mentor guidance.” Students who apply for Tennessee Promise automatically become a tnAchieves student.

According to its website, tnAchieves provides extensive support and resources to students beginning their college journey. This includes sharing helpful college application resources, pairing them with a volunteer mentor, sending important Tennessee Promise Scholarship deadlines and reminders, and offering a free 3-week Summer Bridge Program.

Middle Tennessee State University Scholarships

Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) offers students the following scholarships, need-based financial aid, and college credit opportunities to help pay for college: MTSU dual enrollment, MTSU Tuition Free, MTSU Transfer Promise, and MTSU Freshman Scholarships.

Rutherford County College Preparation Programs

In Rutherford County, students are empowered and directed toward extensive educational opportunities. For instance, Rutherford County Schools offers 40 different industry-recognized certifications, and 900 certifications were awarded to RCS students during the 2020-2021 school year.

For students who not only want to earn college credit before graduation but also lessen their college costs, Rutherford County Schools offers the following opportunities to local students:

  • Dual-Enrollment: Local Rutherford County high school students have earned college credit via dual enrollment programs with Bethel University, MTSU, and Motlow State Community College.
  • Rutherford County Schools’ Early College Program: This program allows students at area high schools to earn college credit, associate’s degrees, and certifications in healthcare before graduating from high school.
  • Work-Based Learning: Rutherford County’s Work-Based Learning Program helps students achieve their personal career goals while helping employers become more aware of the potential of local high school graduates.
  • Early Postsecondary Opportunities (EPSOs): Early postsecondary opportunities ensure that students are ready to take full advantage of the Tennessee Promise and succeed in education and training after high school. EPSOs include a course and/or an exam that gives students a chance to obtain postsecondary credit while still in high school. EPSOs available in Tennessee can be found here.

Rutherford County Schools and Murfreesboro both champion student success by focusing on academic achievement and hands-on learning opportunities. Learn more at Rutherford Works.