University of Tennessee to Launch Free College Program for Low-Income Students

Tiffany Meier
By Tiffany Meier
March 15, 2019US News
University of Tennessee to Launch Free College Program for Low-Income Students
File photo of college graduation hat on ground. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Thousands of Tennessee students coming from families that make $50,000 or less will soon be able to attend the University of Tennessee for free, according to a new report.

University of Tennessee interim President Randy Boyd announced on March 14 that tuition and fees will be covered for students with household incomes below $50,000 a year, reported the Tennessean.

“This gives us a great way to market the University of Tennessee,” Boyd said. “This isn’t a school just for the wealthy or elite. This is a school for everyone.”

The new financial aid program, called UT Promise, will begin in the Fall of 2020 and cover both tuition and fees.

This mirrors the Tennessee Promise, where any student can attend a 2-year community college for free. However, this new program will allow students from low-income families to attend a 4-year institution for free, Boyd said.

“There were many of them that had the dream of being an being an architect or an engineer or something that requires a four-year degree,” Boyd said. “But they didn’t think they had the finances to seek that option. So this will provide that option for those students too.”

Under this program, students will be matched with volunteer mentors and will complete four hours of service learning each semester, reported the Tennessean.

“Everyone will be matched with a mentor—alumni, faculty or graduate student—someone that cares about them and will help them be successful,” Boyd said.

He went on to say the program will be initially funded with money from internal savings and other sources.

“We’re going to be creating an endowment sometime in the next 60 days. In the interim, universities across the system are able to find other savings to be able to cover these costs,” Boyd said.

For further funding, the UT Foundation will embark on a fundraising campaign for “the next five years to create an endowment to fund the program long term,” Boyd said.

“We think this will create that pathway to hope and prosperity for everyone throughout the state,” Boyd said. “We think this will help everyone succeed.”

At this time, it is unclear how much the program will cost the University of Tennessee system. Boyd said he expects to figure out in the next couple of months how much needs to be raised for the endowment.

The program is also meant to cut down the overall debt of students leaving the school. Currently, 46 percent of UT students graduate without debt, reported the Tennessean.

While this program mirrors the Tennessee Promise, it differs in one regard. The Tennessee Promise came under scrutiny for only covering tuition, leaving students with unmanageable housing and textbook costs. Estimated costs for room and board at UT is over $11,000, according to the Nashville Public Radio.

That’s because the Tennessee Promise is a last-dollar scholarship, meaning it only covers tuition, and only after other sources of both state and federal aid have been applied.

However, Boyd said there are other sources of aid available for students to offset housing and other costs.

“There will be be some students whose scholarship will be greater than the tuition and fees and they’ll have extra funds to be able to cover room and board,” he said.

Boyd is hopeful that the new program will help the state fulfill the goal of getting 55 percent of its residents a degree or certificate by 2025.

“This is one way we can change the culture of expectations in the state of Tennessee,” Boyd said. “Parents and grandparents can say, ‘You can go to college. Dream bigger. Dream differently, because you can. You can go to college and have a great life.'”

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