- Associated Press - Saturday, October 25, 2014

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) - With a Nov. 1 deadline approaching, nearly two-thirds of Tennessee’s high school seniors have applied for a new scholarship program that guarantees to cover the costs of a two-year college degree.

Among them is 17-year-old Christian Woodfin, a senior at Red Bank High School. He told The Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bitly.com/1tyMovq ) that without the Tennessee Promise program, it would have been difficult for him to attend college.

He plans to use the program to get a two-year degree in fire science and engineering so he can be a firefighter.

Gov. Bill Haslam has visited high schools around the state to promote Tennessee Promise. He hopes the program will help boost the number of Tennesseans with two- or four-year degrees to 55 percent, up from 33 percent now.

Some 42,000 of Tennessee’s roughly 62,000 high school seniors have applied.

Most students who apply probably won’t enroll, according to state officials. Based on the experience with Tennessee Achieves, a smaller, similar program upon which Tennessee Promise was modeled, about 16 percent of applicants actually enroll, said Dave Smith, Haslam’s press secretary.

Applying online to Tennessee Promise is quick and easy, officials say, and students may sign up as a fall-back in case other plans don’t work out. Or because their school counselors suggested it - as is likely the case, Smith said, in some counties where every graduating senior applied.

Tennessee Promise also seeks adult mentors to spend one hour a month to “help students navigate the college admissions process and ensure they complete Tennessee Promise program requirements,” the program’s website says. Mentors are expected to do such things as remind students of deadlines and reach out to parents and guardians.

Once they get to college, enrollees also have to complete eight hours of community service per term and maintain a 2.0 grade-point average.

State officials expect to spend $15 million on Tennessee Promise in its first year. The cost will rise to an estimated $34 million in three or four years, when the program is fully underway, officials say.

Funding comes from interest on $312.5 million that was taken from the Tennessee Lottery’s surplus fund that’s been put into an irrevocable trust. State Treasury employees invest the trust’s money, and the interest will be used to fund Tennessee Promise.

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Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com

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