It's Commencement Season! Gov. Haslam to speak at Cleveland State, Southwest Tennessee community colleges

Roane State students at their Commencement Friday

Commencement season opened today, Friday, May 5, for students in the College System of Tennessee with ceremonies at Roane State and Pellissippi State community colleges and continue through next week.

Gov. Bill Haslam will deliver the commencement addresses Saturday at Cleveland State Community College and May 13 at Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis. The Southwest ceremonies are set for FedExForum.

The governor will address the first class of Tennessee Promise graduates, fulfilling a promise he made the students when they began their college careers in August 2015. Tennessee Promise is the nation’s first scholarship and mentorship program offering new high school graduates two years of community or technical college free of tuition and mandatory fees. The last-dollar scholarship is funded by Tennessee Lottery proceeds, in addition to the Hope and other lottery-funded programs.

Gov. Haslam proposed Tennessee Promise and the Tennessee General Assembly approved it in 2014; the high school Class of 2015 was the first cohort of students to be eligible. Many of the original group of Promise students are graduating from community and technical college this spring.

In recognition of this milestone, Gov. Haslam is encouraging graduates, their families and their colleges to promote their graduation in their social media posts using the hashtags he plans to use, #TNPromiseGrads and #TNWeCanBe.

At Cleveland State, where commencement ceremonies begin Saturday at 10 a.m. ET in Quentin Lane Gymnasium, 128 Tennessee Promise students are completing their degrees within two years, doubling the completion rate of non-Promise students. Of those, 46 students were accepted into Phi Theta Kappa honor society, 16 joined the Honors Program and 12 received the Presidential Honors Scholarship. This class also completed 12,000 hours of community service, a requirement of the scholarship program. 

Roane State was the first of Tennessee’s community colleges to conduct graduation ceremonies with two separate ceremonies this afternoon and evening. Pellissippi State also held its commencement ceremonies this evening, at the University of Tennessee’s Thompson Boling Arena.

Here’s a complete schedule of commencement ceremonies at Tennessee’s community colleges:

Friday, May 5: Roane State Community College, Pellissippi State Community College.

Saturday, May 6: Cleveland State Community College, Columbia State Community College, Dyersburg State Community College, Jackson State Community College, Motlow State Community College, Roane State Community College, Volunteer State Community College, Walters State Community College.

Monday, May 8: Chattanooga State Community College.

Tuesday, May 9: Nashville State Community College, Northeast State Community College.

Saturday, May 13: Southwest Tennessee Community College.

Graduation ceremonies at the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology are spread across the spring and summer, depending on when specific courses are completed.

Joshua Spurling, the student member of the Tennessee Board of Regents and a graduating student at Roane State, addressed his fellow graduates at both of Roane State’s ceremonies today and plans to address his school’s third graduation ceremony Saturday morning.

Several other Regents planned to bring the board’s greetings at other ceremonies across the TBR College System of Tennessee.

The governor’s office says that as a result of Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect, a separate scholarship program for adults without degrees, statewide data indicates that:

  • First-time freshmen enrollment has increased 30 percent at community colleges and overall enrollment has increased 32 percent at the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology.
  • More than 33,000 students have enrolled in college as a result of Tennessee Promise, and of the students who began in fall 2015, 63 percent are still enrolled at community colleges and 83 percent are enrolled at TCATs.
  • At community colleges, Tennessee Promise students had significantly higher retention rates (58 percent) than non-Promise first-time freshmen (42 percent).
  • For a second year in a row, Tennessee led the nation in FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) filings (70.3 percent of the class of 2016) and is on track to maintain that for a third year.
  • Since implementation of Tennessee Promise, student loan originations decreased by 17 percent, and the average federal student loan amount decreased by 12 percent.