tnAchieves, partnering organization for Governor Bill Haslam’s TN Promise, is currently seeking volunteers to serve as mentors for program’s third class of students. TN Promise offers every high school senior the opportunity to attend one of the state’s 13 community colleges or 27 colleges of applied technology tuition free with a last dollar scholarship. The program also pairs each applicant with a volunteer mentor to ease the transition from high school to college.
Tennessee’s Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Randy Boyd has been a mentor with the program since its inception in 2008. “With the idea of eliminating the barriers keeping Tennessee students from entering the post-secondary pipeline, Tennessee Promise provides a last-dollar scholarship with mentor support to our state’s high school seniors,” said Boyd. “It sends the message to students and families that college is within everyone’s reach regardless of zip code or socio-economic background.
It also communicates to business and industry that Tennessee is intensely focused on creating the workforce to meet their demands.” TN Promise is one program of the state’s Drive to 55 initiative that aims to increase Tennessee’s adult population with a post-secondary credential to 55 percent by 2025.
In the first two years of the program almost 120,000 students have applied. In the first year, 16,291 students began college TN Promise eligible. The state’s college going rate increased 4.6 percent, more than the previous seven years combined. Enrollment at the state’s community and technical colleges increased more than 20 percent and enrollment at all of the state’s public higher education institutions increased 10 percent. This translates into approximately 4,000 new students entering the college pipeline.
The scholarship dollars are important, and often creates excitement around going to college, but the support of the mentor can be critical to many students’ success. Most of the students participating in the program are first generation college attendees and navigating the admissions and financial aid processes can seem overwhelmingly. Mentors spend about one hour per month reminding students of deadlines, serving as a trusted resource, and encouraging students to reach their full potential. The time commitment is small, but the impact can be life changing.
tnAchieves Director of Community Partnerships Graham Thomas explained the importance of the role of the mentors. “Mentors provide the encouragement and support students need to be successful as they begin their college careers,” Thomas said. “Mentors ensure barriers that might cause students to quit are overcome, processes that might prove to be intimidating are completed, and vocabulary that was foreign becomes everyday language.”
tnAchieves needs more than 9,000 volunteers statewide to serve as mentors to meet student demand. The program operates TN Promise in 84 counties and each county has a specific mentor goal.