NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam is thanking legislators for giving final approval to what administration officials call his "groundbreaking" Tennessee Reconnect Act, which effectively extends free college tuition to all state citizens.
The legislation builds on Haslam's Tennessee Promise initiative, which offers lottery-funded, last-dollar scholarships to recent high school graduates and all adults who have no post-secondary degree or certificate.
"Just as we did with Tennessee Promise, we're making a clear statement to families: wherever you fall on life's path, education beyond high school is critical to the Tennessee we can be," Haslam said in a news release.
The programs are key to the Republican governor's Drive to 55 initiative which seeks to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2025.
Currently, the governor's office says, Tennessee needs 871,000 post-secondary degrees or certificates to reach 55 percent. But mathematically speaking, officials say, that can't be achieve by just serving high school graduates.
There are over 900,000 adults in Tennessee who have some college but no degree.
Both "last-dollar" programs rely on earnings from a special lottery funded reserve to pay for tuition. While the federal government often picks up many costs through the Pell Grant program, the state program, according to Haslam, has been a difference maker, bringing in many students who thought they couldn't afford higher education.