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Let’s hear it for our governor’s bold plan to waive all tuition and fees at state community colleges and technology centers.

If our state legislature approves - and it should - Tennessee would be the only state in the nation offering free education to every high school graduate.

Nothing is totally free, and this package would be financed through the state lottery by reducing Hope scholarships to incoming students at four-year colleges by $1,000 for the first two years.

That would likely reduce enrollment at four-year institutions like the University of Tennessee at Martin.

The goal, though, is a net increase in the number of students who continue their education after high school.

Gov. Bill Haslam focused on education in his annual State of the State address to the legislature Monday.

Besides the new program, which he called Tennessee Promise, he called for spending more to encourage adults to go back to school, data research to find adults who have unfinished college degrees, and new buildings at Columbia and Volunteer state community colleges.

Haslam a year ago announced a goal he calls Drive for 55, to raise the proportion of Tennessee residents with a college degree or advanced certificate to 55 percent by 2025. The current level is 32 percent.

His proposal for Hope scholarships is not only to reduce grants to college freshmen and sophomores from $4,000 to $3,000 a year, but also to raise the grants for juniors and seniors to $5,000.

If the package is approved, we can only imagine the impact of being able to study without tuition or fees at schools like the Tennessee Technology Center here in Paris.

It’s easy to envision a shift in enrollment from four-year to two-year institutions, and the governor didn’t mention what costs might be involved in that kind of change.

But as a whole, it’s a leap forward. Let’s do it.



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