Gov. Haslam Proposes Free Community College For ‘All Adults’ in State of the State Address

Gov. Haslam proposed free community college for “all adults” in his State of the State address last Monday

“I am proposing that Tennessee become the first state in the nation to offer all adults access to community college free of tuition and fees,” Haslam said:
Just like the Tennessee Promise, Tennessee Reconnect will provide last-dollar scholarships for adult learners to attend one of our community colleges for free – and at no cost to the state’s General Fund.
With the Reconnect Act, Tennessee would be the first in the nation to offer all citizens – both high school students and adults – access to a degree or certificate free of tuition and fees. No caps. No first come, first served. All. Just as we did with Tennessee Promise we’re making a clear statement to families with Reconnect: wherever you might fall on life’s path, education beyond high school is critical to the Tennessee we can be. We don’t want cost to be an obstacle anyone has to overcome as they pursue their own generational change for themselves and their families

It was unclear if by “all adults” he intended to include illegal aliens currently residing in the state.

In the subsequent paragraph, Haslam stated that “Tennessee would be the first in the nation to offer all citizens . . .access to a degree or certificate free of tuition and fees.”

Though that language would suggest the free tuition offer would be extended only to citizens, and not to non-citizens, lacking the full language of the Reconnect Act itself, it could be possible to interpret the Governor’s use of two nouns with distinctly different meanings — adults and citizens –leaves the door open for non-citizens to benefit from the free tuition offer.

At least one state legislator is looking for some clarification.

“I am anxious to see more details about the Governor’s ‘free community college plan” for all Tennesseans,” State Sen. Mae Beavers (R- Mount Juliet) told The Tennessee Star.

“With this new government entitlement program seemingly being available to any “adult” in the state it appears that illegal aliens may qualify just as ‘eligible’ illegal aliens can qualify for Tennessee Promise,” she said.

“We saw Tennessee become a magnet for those seeking free healthcare under TennCare and it nearly bankrupted the state; do we really want to become a magnet for illegal aliens seeking ‘free’ college and technical training at Tennessee’s expense?,” Beavers asked.

“In his State of the State speech the Governor used terms like ‘everybody, ‘all adults’ and ‘citizens’ interchangeably so I believe we need clarification as to whether his term “citizens” means actual U.S. citizenship will be a requirement for eligibility or if he meant it in terms of simply living in Tennessee,” she noted.

Haslam’s mention that Tennessee Reconnect will be “just like the Tennessee Promise” adds to the confusion.

“Tennessee resident/U.S. citizen/eligible non-citizen/students who graduate from an eligible high School, home school, or earn a GED/HISET (prior to 19th birthday) can receive an award at an eligible postsecondary institution toward tuition and mandatory fees after all other gift aid has been first applied,” according to the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation website, which outlines eligibility requirements for the Tennessee Promise Scholarship:

Students must attend mandatory meetings and participate in a mentoring program. College students must attend full-time, continue to participate in the mentoring program, and perform 8 hours of community service prior to each term the award is received.

Unanswered in the State of the State address was this question: If Tennessee Reconnect will be just like the Tennessee Promise, will “Tennessee residents” and “eligible non-citizen[s]” be eligible to participate, in addition to “U.S. citizen[s]”?

Gov. Haslam gave an emotionally charged argument introducing his free tuition proposal.

“We need to reach the working mother that went to college but didn’t complete, or the son with sons of his own who like his dad never went to college but knows that he needs to upgrade his skills,” he said:

Adults currently can attend a TCAT tuition free, and we were the first state in the nation to offer a program like the Tennessee Promise. Tonight, I’m introducing the next step in making certain that everyone in Tennessee has the opportunity to earn their degree.

Press reports indicated that Haslam’s free tuition proposal was enthusiastically cheered by the members of the General Assembly in his audience.


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