Haslam helps kickoff 2-year college free-tuition program

CLEVELAND, Tenn. (WATE) – The first class of Tennessee Promise students started college Monday. An estimated 18,000 were expected to enroll.

As students showed up for their first college classes, so did Gov. Bill Haslam. He sat in on a freshman class at Cleveland State Community College and talked to students about what they wanted to study in college and what suggestions they had for the Tennessee Promise program.

The governor said it was like Christmas morning to see thousands of students across the state finally fulfill their dreams of going to college.

“It started with a dream several years ago about ‘What if?'” he said. “What if we could have every student in Tennessee have the opportunity to go to college free of charge?”

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That vision started several years ago in Knox County when Gov. Haslam, then mayor of Knoxville, helped start Knox Achieves.

“I saw how it worked,” he said. “I saw how those students not only went to community college but they actually completed at a higher rate than non-Tennessee Promise students had.”

His Knoxville dream, turned into Tennessee Promise, became a reality Monday as thousands of kids across the state sat down to take their very first college class for free.

“I didn’t have funds for college. I really didn’t,” said freshman Tommy Shanahan. “I was never really athletically gifted and I wasn’t the smartest kid and all that, but I wanted to, you know, go out and further my education and I didn’t have that opportunity. It really opened a door in my life.”

Even though Gov. Haslam was excited, he said Monday was not the day to call Tennessee Promise a success. He said that day will be two years from now if these students complete their education.

He added, more students took advantage of Tennessee Promise than he had anticipate, but the state is still okay when it comes to funding because they kept initial cost estimates conservative. Gov. Haslam said the program is being paid for by a lottery fund endowment and money from the general fund, and will cost about $12 million this year.

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