According to projectstudentdebt.org, 71% of last year’s college graduates had accumulated an
average of $29,400 of student loan debt per borrower. To date, American college graduates have over
one trillion dollars in student loan debt.
In an effort to slow down the rise of student loan debt, Gov. Bill Haslam has started a program
called that will make it possible for current high school seniors to attend community colleges or
technical schools in Tennessee debt-free.
Tennessee Promise is a last-dollar scholarship, which means that any tuition not covered by the
Hope scholarship, government grants or merit scholarships will be covered by Tennessee Promise.
The Tennessee Promise scholarship was preceded by a program called tnAchieves, which was
aimed at low-income, first generation college students and was also a last-dollar scholarship. The
success of this program is what led to Tennessee Promise, which includes not just students from low-
income families, but students from all financial backgrounds.
Unlike tnAchieves, Tennessee Promise has a mentoring program and community service
The demographic of students who would be most likely to use Tennessee Promise are students who
would not normally pursue a higher education and students from middle class families who still have to
pay tuition out-of-pocket, even with student loans.
While Tennessee Promise is a way to get more students to consider higher education, it could
potentially present some challenges to private four-year institutions like Maryville College.
“The college’s strategic plan, “Renewing Our Strength,” calls for a student body of 1,300 by the
year 2019, the college’s bicentennial anniversary. In order to reach this goal, we will need to continue
to grow each freshman and transfer class, as well as continue to improve retention of current students,”
said Cyndi Sweet, MC Director of Admissions.
This school year’s overall enrollment was about 1,200 students, an all-time high for MC. The
question is, with students having the option to attend community college without debt, will MC be able
to continue its growth in the next few years?
The recruitment process, according to Sweet, is constantly evolving with each new class. MC uses
emails, texts, postal mail and online events to get students’ attention. This year, MC is following two
of Maryville High School’s students in their college search, in a partnership with MHS and WBIR. The
students will be featured on WBIR on the second Monday of each month.
“Not only will this benefit families who are going through the college search process, it will be great
exposure for Maryville College,” Sweet said.
As far as affordability goes, MC has always emphasized its competitiveness in scholarships and
financial aid when communicating with prospective students.
“Some families do not consider MC due to our ‘sticker price,’” Sweet said. “Because they make the
assumption they will not be able to afford us.”
Sweet went on to say that MC goes over scholarships and financial aid every year in order to ensure
that it is affordable. The college also gives additional merit scholarships to students who qualify and
will continue this tradition.
One of the pulls to a four-year college that community colleges will not have is the athletic program.
Vice President of Enrollment, Dolph Henry said, “I think that there will be less of an impact on
students who want to play NCAA sports.”
Another advantage MC has is the new Maryville College Works program. The program is aimed
at “bridging college to career” with every student, no matter his or her major, being required to do an
internship or practicum.
Although the impact that Tennessee Promise will have on the fall of 2015 is unknown at this point,
Sweet and Henry both believe that there could potentially be a larger effect on the fall of 2016, as the
Tennessee Promise program becomes more established. There are strict deadlines for the program that
could be missed this year, like the Nov. 1 cut-off date to apply for the scholarship
When asked what he thought the potential effects that Tennessee Promise will have on MC, Henry
stated that there were too many variables to consider at this point and that the future is unknown.
As this school year progresses and until next year’s enrollment numbers start coming in, the effects
of Tennessee Promise remain indefinite, but the college is taking it under consideration and are
preparing to keep enrollment up.