- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - With the Nov. 1 deadline to apply approaching, the Tennessee Promise program could be on pace to perhaps double the state’s goal of applications.

So far, more than 35,000 high school students have applied for the program, which offers free tuition at the state’s two-year community colleges and colleges of applied technology, The Tennessean (https://tnne.ws/1nh9Jkj) reported.

That means some two-thirds of the 60,000 public high school seniors in Tennessee could eventually sign up for the program, the newspaper said.

The state’s goal was 20,000 applications.

The rush to attend community college for free was on display last month at Motlow State Community College. The Lynchburg, Tenn., school held what it called “Scholarship Saturday.” In just four hours, more than 1,300 students signed up for Tennessee Promise.

Forty-five minutes before the doors opened for the one-stop application outing, a line was already meandering out the door of the school’s library.

“It looked like kids waiting to get into a Justin Bieber concert,” said Mike Krause, who is working out of the governor’s office to lead the initiative to increase the number of college graduates to 55 percent of the adult population by 2025. “But it was kids waiting to sign up for Tennessee Promise.”

The real test will be how many more diplomas the program eventually produces, a question that won’t get answered for a few more years.

Tennessee Promise was pushed by Gov. Bill Haslam and approved by the General Assembly this past spring. The program taps the state’s lottery reserves to cover the costs of providing free tuition.

For Krause, the push is twofold. He has crisscrossed the state, putting 2,809 miles on his car in the past three weeks to get the word out, county by county. One is attracting more Tennessee Promise applicants in counties where they are low. In Middle Tennessee that includes Rutherford, Robertson, Cheatham and Williamson. The other focus is increasing the number of voluntary “mentors,” a critical piece of the program.

Mentors receive training and serve an hour a month to help Tennessee Promise enrollees - many who are first-generation college students - with items such as signing up for classes and following through on required financial aid paperwork.

Right now, 4,800 have signed up to be mentors, still short of the goal of 6,000. The mentor program also has a Nov. 1 deadline.

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Information from: The Tennessean, https://www.tennessean.com

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