NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday lauded students for taking advantage of the program he created to give them two years of free tuition at a state community or technical college.
The Republican governor talked to Tennessee Promise students at Cleveland State Community College and Nashville State Community College on Monday, the first day of classes at two-year institutions across the state. He's scheduled to visit Southwest Tennessee Community College on Tuesday.
The students were among as many as 18,000 that were expected to enroll in the program. More than 58,000 of the state's 74,000 high school graduates applied for the scholarship.
Richard Briley of Nashville is majoring in business management at Nashville State Community College. The 18-year-old said Tennessee Promise has allowed him to be the first in his family to pursue a postsecondary education.
"It's something that hasn't been accomplished in my family," Briley said. "So to be the first to do that, I feel very proud of myself and my family's very proud of me."
Briley said he plans to save money while attending the community college and use the funds to enroll in a four-year institution his junior year.
Kristopher Tugman, a 19-year-old communications major at Nashville State, said he also plans to save money and put it toward a four-year school in two years.
He said he doesn't know what he would do without Tennessee Promise because his after-school job and the multiple jobs his mom worked wouldn't have produced enough money.
"Tennessee Promise opened up a world of opportunities for me; I just really appreciate it," Tugman said.
The program was launched as part of Haslam's "Drive to 55" initiative, which aims to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with a degree or certificate beyond high school, help improve overall job qualifications and attract employers to the state.
The governor told reporters later Monday that the program is a key part of that initiative.
"There's no way we get to the 55 percent without Tennessee Promise," Haslam said. "And even with it, we're going to have to ... make certain that all these students who enrolled today actually do complete."
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