Tennessee governor signs free community college bill

(Photo: WKRN)

MORRISTOWN (WATE) – Tennessee will become the first state in the country to offer free community college education to almost every resident without a degree.

Governor Bill Haslam signed the Tennessee Reconnect bill Wednesday at Walters State Community College in Morristown.

The bill is an extension of Haslam’s Tennessee Promise initiative. Both are part of a campaign called Drive to 55 which aims to increase the number of Tennesseans with post-secondary degrees to 55 percent by 2025.

“It’s all about companies saying ‘do you have the trained workforce we need whether it be IT skills or engineering skills or welding skills or truck driving skills, all across the spectrum,” Haslam said.

The plan will cost the state $11 million and be funded through the lottery for education account.

“We think that can not only be a game-changer in the state but really make a huge difference in the lives of a lot of Tennesseans,” Haslam said.

The bill allows older adults without a college degree attend community college for free. Full-time and part-time students would be eligible to participate in the program starting fall 2018.

Under a pilot program, one of the first students to go through the Reconnect program is Alan Wood. He is a student at Walters State Community College and will graduate soon with a 4.0 GPA.

He was at the college when Haslam signed the bill into law.

“After high school I did a little bit of college, went with the US Coast Guard and actually served a little bit with the Persian Gulf War and then went to college more, but didn’t get a chance to finish. Life kind of got in the way,” Wood said. “If you don’t have that piece of paper, you’re not going to get that job, as much experience as I’ve got.”

Related: Tennessee’s free community college plan draws interest, questions

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