Tenn. Governor Proposes Free Community College Program

NASHVILLE, Tenn. ― A popular Tennessee governor running for re-election wants to create a free community college program. Sound familiar?

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who is up for a second term this fall, proposed the change in his State of the State on Monday night. His Democratic predecessor, Phil Bredesen, made a similar pitch en route to sweeping all 95 counties in 2006.

Haslam’s “Tennessee Promise” proposal would cover a full ride at two-year schools for any high school graduate, at a cost of $34 million per year. That’s $9 million more than Bredesen’s proposal, which would have required the equivalent of a C average to qualify for free tuition.

Despite his landslide win, Bredesen’s proposal never gained much traction in the legislature. A scaled-back version was included into a larger lottery scholarship bill that passed the House, but ultimately failed in the Republican-controlled Senate in 2007.

Bredesen said at the time that his tuition proposal was overshadowed by all the attention paid to a 42-cent tax increase that narrowly passed the legislature that year.

He was unsuccessful in reviving the tuition proposal over the following three years of his time in office, despite his belief that two-year college represents a “magic ingredient” for improving Tennesseans’ access to higher education.