Tennessee education leaders are making a last-ditch effort to get students signed up for tuition-free mentoring and scholarship program Tennessee Promise.
Compared to the same time last year, applications are down 20% statewide and by 52% in Davidson County, according to the nonprofit tnAchieves.
The scholarship effectively makes community college free by covering any leftover tuition costs or fees for students attending the state’s community and technical colleges. It’s also eligible at four-year colleges where students are pursuing an associate’s degree.
“Once that deadline passes, there is no recourse to get Tennessee Promise,” says Graham Thomas, the deputy director of outreach at tnAchieves. “It’s a one time shot while you’re a senior in high school.”
Thomas says, generally, almost all students have submitted an application for the scholarship. He says he believes that the pandemic is contributing to a decrease of about 10,000 students statewide.
According to tnAchieves enrollment data, there are about 5,000 high school seniors in Nashville’s public schools. As of Tuesday evening, only 1,398 of those students had completed an application for Tennessee Promise.
At some schools, the percentage of seniors who applied is less than 5%.
However, at Whites Creek High School in a northern section of Davidson County, they’ve increased the count. The high school has a 61% completion rate.
Closing the gap in Nashville
Counselors haven’t had nearly as much access to students since the coronavirus shut down schools in March, says Keri Randolph, executive officer of strategic federal, state and philanthropic investments at Metro Nashville Public Schools.
“All of these things are about relationships,” says Randolph. “When we’re in-person with a student, you can see their face. You can talk with them. It’s a conversation.”
Another hiccup, says Randolph, has been getting students motivated. She says many of them have become focused on taking care of siblings, and working jobs to support families members who are out of work because of the pandemic.
“There are more barriers in the way because a student has to pick up the phone or get on a call,” says Randolph. “We’re … trying to do lots of different things because we know it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.”
Randolph says the district is making regular phone calls, putting together public service announcements with the help of senior students, partnering with community members and sending out mailings. The district also has a website for seniors and is targeting them on social media.
She says, generally, about 20-25% of the district’s students enroll at Nashville State Community College after graduation.
“It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation,” says Randolph. “We’re just coming back from fall break so there is a huge ramp up.”
The deadline to complete an application for Tennessee Promise is Nov. 2.