Tennessee to make community college free for all adults with‘Tennessee Reconnect'


BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee is one step away from becoming the first state in the country to make community college free for all adults. The 'Tennessee Reconnect' act has passed the legislature and is now headed to governor Haslam to sign.

They've already had 'Tennessee Promise' which has helped thousands of high school graduates afford community colleges, like Northeast State Community College in our region. Now this new bill will help more adult students do the same.

"I want to be good example to my kids," said 43-year-old Andrea Marshall, who just graduated from Northeast State.

Marshall said it was the best decision she's ever made, but it hasn't been easy on her finances.

"I really had to buckle down something in my personal life to pay so the Reconnect would be a lot easier," said Marshall.

Now leaders are trying to help students like Marshall with "Tennessee Reconnect". It will mean all adult students who don't already have degrees or certificates can attend community college for free.

At Northeast State alone, more than 1,400 of the students are age 24 or older.

"I've always had a passion for adult learners, my mom went back to school as an adult learner," said Josie Russell, with Northeast State Enrollment Services. "So I've seen this first hand and seen how something like this could help."

It's all part of Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam's drive to 55, aiming to increase the number of Tennesseans with certificates and degrees to 55% by 2025.

Previous grants and scholarships for adult learners had stricter course load requirements. 'Tennessee Reconnect' will only require students to complete 6 credit hours per semester.

"They do want to come back and there's a unique set of barriers for them, finances being one of them," said Russell.

April Allen is studying administrative business technology at Northeast State, she decided to go back to school when her younger brother graduated college.

"It's amazing, it's changed my life, it's changed my outlook, it's changed my perspective," said Allen. "I feel like I'm a better person because of it."

She said having these funds will be a huge weight off her shoulders going into her last year of study.

"Now I'll have more money to pay for books and it won't be as hard to pay for books, as well as classes," said Allen.

Governor Haslam is expected to sign the bill for Tennessee reconnect next week, then if signed the bill will take effect for community colleges in 2018.

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