NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A pilot program in Knox County provides cash to cover emergencies for college students in the region, and education experts say Knox Promise is just one example of how the state can help more Tennessee students complete a degree and navigate a changing labor market.
Randy Boyd, president of the University of Tennessee system and chairman of Tennessee Achieves, said the completion grants underscore the need for a wider net of services to keep students attending classes.
“These are very small grants, micro-grants – it could be $100, it could be $500 – for students that suddenly have something unexpected that comes up that could derail them, like a radiator breaks in their car,” he said. “For some students, it makes a difference in whether they are going to be able to graduate.”
Boyd said colleges have seen a 43% increase in student success by offering completion grants. According to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, barely half of students who enter college finish their degrees within six years, and the completion rates are lower for low-income, Hispanic and Black students.
Boyd said funding for the pilot was provided by a private donor, but added that he hopes to expand the program to all Tennessee students.
“So, for a very small amount of money statewide – we estimated about $4.5 million a year – we could have a statewide completion grant program,” he said. “It’s something we’re going to be championing in the future.”
Boyd said the state also could revise rules on transferring credits between colleges. He noted that barriers to transferring from a community college to a four-year institution particularly affect students of color.
“We definitely need to look at how we credential and how we provide more options to our students,” he said.
Based on the most recent attainment rates, the state would need to help an additional 60,000 Black Tennesseans obtain an associate or bachelor’s degree to close the education gap with white Tennesseans.
Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.