In his State of the State Address this Tuesday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, an Emory alum (’80C), proposed an initiative called Tennessee Promise. If passed, the bill would make two years of technical college or community college completely free for Tennessee residents. The entire program could be funded at a predicted $34 million a year – a relatively small portion of Tennessee lottery money. We at the Wheel applaud Haslam for his bold attempt to lessen economic and educational inequality, and we encourage the passage of Tennessee Promise. We also would like to take a moment to consider what services and courses Emory itself could offer to the community free of charge.
Tennessee Promise would make Tennessee the only state in the U.S. to charge no fees to incoming students at community and technical colleges. The sticker price of Community College and Technical College tends to run at about $4,000, but with grants and scholarships, many students are able to attend these schools virtually free of charge. However, many students are not aware of these grants and scholarships, so making school completely free opens up opportunities for thousands of students who may not be ready for a four-year college experience.
Tennessee Promise confronts an important reality in today’s economy: four-year universities are simply not for everyone. Whether public or private, the traditional university experience is both costly and time-consuming. Many students are not academically or financially prepared for a four-year university in their first year out of high school. Community college and technical school can serve as a way for students looking to learn marketable skills and further develop their previous educational experiences. Certainly, Tennessee Promise provides opportunities for students who are unable to afford further education.
In the midst of sudden surpluses, state governments have opportunities to spend money on educational initiatives that lessen economic and educational inequalities. In New York, a debate about how to fund pre-school continues. Yet, even in light of government surpluses, it is important to keep in mind how programs will be funded year after year for those who need them. Were Tennessee to experience an influx of applicants to technical and community colleges, could the state afford to continue funding their tuition for the next 10 years? What about 15 years? If a student enters his or her senior year of high school hoping to take advantage of Tennessee Promise, the state should ensure that the money does not run out before graduation.
In light of this, we suggest that long-term financial planning for this bill be considered carefully by legislators before the bill goes to a vote. Additionally, we would like to initiate dialogue surrounding what Emory can do to extend its educational resources to those who cannot pay tuition. The Emory Center for Extended Education offers many helpful courses to community members, but we wonder if a free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) would go even further to offer Emory’s incredible resources to the world. Haslam’s plan is inspirational. We hope that Emory will follow his lead and begin looking at ways to make education more accessible for the Atlanta community.
The above staff editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel.