First TN Promise class had higher graduation rate and number of students who earned college credential

Commencement 2018

The graduation rate and the number of students who earned a community college degree or certificate within five semesters increased substantially with the first Tennessee Promise class, according to new data compiled by the College System of Tennessee.

The inaugural class of TN Promise students graduated from high school in 2015, entered college in Fall 2015 and completed its five semesters of eligibility for the tuition-free scholarship program with the fall semester of 2017, which concluded in December. The new data analyzes that first 2015 TN Promise cohort at Tennessee’s community colleges and compares it to a similar pre-Promise cohort – recent high school graduates who entered college in Fall 2014 – through both groups’ first five semesters.

The results are impressive for the 2015 TN Promise class:

  • Its 21.5 percent graduation rate through five semesters was up from the 13.8 percent of the 2014 group after the same period of time.
  • The number of students who earned a degree or technical certificate through five semesters increased from 1,790 in the 2014 cohort to 2,857 in the 2015 TN Promise group, a 60 percent increase.
  • The “success rate” for the first TN Promise class through five semesters was 52.2 percent, compared to 49.9 percent of the 2014 group. The success rate is defined as students who graduated, transferred, or were still enrolled in community college through the five semesters.

“These numbers underscore that Tennessee Promise is doing exactly what Governor Bill Haslam and the General Assembly intended – getting more students into college who might not otherwise be able to attend, helping them advance toward degrees and increasing the number of Tennesseans with the college credentials they’ll need for the modern workforce,” said Dr. Flora W. Tydings, chancellor of the College System of Tennessee.

The first TN Promise data also show that the program is having a broader impact than just the students enrolled in it. In Fall 2015, the number of first-time freshmen at community colleges grew by 4,300 students, a 24.7 percent increase.

Overall, 3,257 students in the 2015 cohort earned a degree or certificate within five semesters, an 82% increase over the pre-Promise 2014 group. This total includes both TN Promise students as well as students who were not part of the Promise program.

College System researchers attributed the increased graduation rate and greater degree attainment in part to the overall impact of the TN Promise program, which encouraged greater full-time enrollment and first-time enrollment.  To remain eligible for the program, TN Promise students must attend full-time, taking at least 12 credit hours per semester. National research confirms that full-time students remain in school and graduate at higher rates than their part-time peers.

“Tennessee Promise has had a profound effect on enrollment and accelerated degree production,” said Dr. Russ Deaton, executive vice chancellor for policy and strategy. “We do though still have approximately one-fourth of community college freshmen not on Promise, even though as recent high school graduates they are eligible.  These students are not on Promise for a variety of reasons, and it points us toward the challenge of ensuring that we communicate clearly with all students what the requirements are to become Promise eligible.

"Nonetheless, our student success analysis examines the success rates for the Promise cohort, as well as the overall freshman cohort which includes this large segment of non-Promise students,” Deaton said.

Proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam and approved by the state legislature in 2014 as the first major step to achieve Tennessee’s Drive to 55 – a broad initiative to equip at least 55 percent of Tennesseans with a college degree or credential by 2025 – Tennessee Promise is the nation’s first statewide program for tuition-free community and technical college. The program provides mentoring assistance to help guide high school students through the college application, financial aid and enrollment processes, and a “last-dollar” scholarship covering the costs of tuition and mandatory fees not covered by federal Pell Grants and state aid programs such as the Hope Scholarship and Tennessee Student Assistance Awards.

To qualify, students must file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), enroll in college the fall semester following their high school graduation, perform eight hours of community service, remain enrolled as full-time students and maintain satisfactory academic progress in college (a minimum 2.0 grade-point average).

A total of 13,287 TN Promise students enrolled in the state’s 13 community colleges in Fall 2015 – 73.5 percent of recent high school graduates who entered as first-time freshmen in the colleges that fall. Of the Promise students, 59.9 percent were still in college a year later, in Fall 2016, compared to only 41.3 percent of non-Promise recent high school graduates.

After five semesters, 21.5 percent of the original Promise students had earned a degree or certificate, 20.6 percent were still enrolled in their community college and 10.1 percent had transferred – for a 52.2 percent success rate.

Full details of the first TN Promise cohort, including demographic breakdowns, are available on the College System’s website:

The College System of Tennessee is the state’s largest public higher education system, with 13 community colleges, 24 colleges of applied technology and the online TN eCampus serving approximately 140,000 students. The system is governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents.