Law Makes Tennessee First State to Offer All Citizens Chance to Earn a Degree Tuition-Free

MORRISTOWN – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam made history today as he signed the Tennessee Reconnect Act, making Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer all citizens – both high school graduates and adults – the chance to earn a postsecondary degree or certificate free of tuition and fees and at no cost to taxpayers.

Building off the groundbreaking Tennessee Promise program, which provides high school graduates two years of community or technical college free of tuition and fees, the Tennessee Reconnect Act (HB 531/SB 1218) establishes a last-dollar scholarship for adults to attend a community college tuition-free.

“This is about jobs, it’s about math, and it’s about the Tennessee we can be,” Haslam said in a signing ceremony at the Walter State Community College campus in Morristown. “We know that by 2025, at least half the jobs in this state will require a college degree or certificate. Mathematically there’s no way to reach that goal just by equipping high school graduates with degrees. Just as we did with Tennessee Promise, we want Tennessee Reconnect to send a clear message to adults: wherever you fall on life’s path, education beyond high school is critical to the Tennessee we can be.”

The Tennessee Reconnect Act, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and Representatives David Hawk and Dennis Powers, is part of NextTennessee, Haslam’s 2017 legislative agenda to build and sustain economic growth and the state’s competitiveness for the next generation of Tennesseans.

In 2013, Haslam launched the Drive to 55 to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2025. Currently, Tennessee needs 871,000 postsecondary degrees or certificates to reach 55 percent, but mathematically there’s no way to reach that goal by only serving high school students. There are over 900,000 adults in Tennessee who have some college but no degree.

Tennessee adults without a certificate can already attend Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) tuition-free under the current Reconnect program. The Tennessee Reconnect Act adds community colleges to the program, funded through the lottery for education account.

Haslam will also hold Reconnect signing events today at Motlow State Community College in Smyrna and the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Public Library in Memphis.