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I found this story off the New York Times, and I'm pretty floored by the concept:

Public colleges have sharply raised their prices since the 1990s in the face of declining state support, but a plan by Tennessee’s governor to make two years of community college and technical school free for all students represents a striking reversal of that trend.

Tennessee would be the only state in the country to charge no tuition or fees to incoming students under the proposal by Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, which policy analysts called a big step toward a better-educated work force.

I will admit, I find it rather surprising for a Republican governor to be offering such a bold, policy idea.  Is Governor Haslam serious?  Or is this just a GOP talking point?

Continuing below the fold:

Continuing with the NY Times story:

“This is the best idea to boost participation in higher education in a generation,” said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, a major association of public and private colleges.

Mr. Haslam made it the centerpiece of his State of the State address on Monday, calling for two years of free schooling for state residents with high school diplomas or equivalency degrees, without regard to academic credentials or financial need. The change requires approval by the state legislature, whose leaders reacted favorably to the idea.

“We just needed to change the culture of expectations in our state,” the governor said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “College is not for everybody, but it has to be for a lot more people than it’s been in the past if we’re going to have a competitive work force.”

Community college is fairly inexpensive; a full year’s tuition and fees in Tennessee are about $3,800, and the national average is $3,300. Federal Pell grants and other scholarships make the net price zero, or a very small sum, for most students.

I will admit that the devil here is in the details.  What are the eligibility requirements for the students?  Residency requirements?  What about older workers who may already have a college degree, but need to go back to school for professional certification?  Will they be included in this free education?   What colleges and technical schools will be participating in this program?  Are private colleges allowed to be participating in this program....Can you say College Voucher?  What will be paid in this "free education?"  Tuition?  Room and Board?  Books and supplies?

Governor Haslam estimates that the cost for this program will be around $34 million a year, which will be paid by diverting surplus revenue from the state lottery.  He also said that the state will work with private foundations to provide mentors to students on "navigating college."  This brings up two more interesting questions.  The first is, if the state lottery "surplus revenues" drop below $34 million to where the program can not pay the free tuition to students, who will make up the shortfall?  The state's general revenue fund?  The taxpayers?  The students?  

The second question I would have is this entire idea of "private foundations" to provide these mentors to students?  Who or what are these private foundations, and what type of mentoring information will they be providing the students?  Will the students be required to see these private foundation mentors in order to get this free college aid?  What about older students who are returning to college, and will know all the hoops they must jump through for attending college?  Is this another scam for the governor to divert public taxpayer money to conservative companies providing either these mentoring services, or conservative colleges?

A quick, final thought here.  Tennessee is a small state, where the NY Times reports there are 13 degree-granting community colleges, and 27 Colleges of Applied Technology.  Will this program become a template for bigger states with a greater number of colleges and students....say California?  I don't know.  I do know that something needs to be done to stop the growing inequality between the rich, and everyone else.  I know that something needs to be done to revive the job market, increase worker wages, and improve employee skills and training to gain better jobs.  This is not the perfect, catch-all policy program that will solve the serious problems this country faces.  However, I would never have expected a Republican governor to advocate such a policy.  So I'll keep an open mind.

And wait for the details.

Originally posted to Eric Hopp on Tue Feb 04, 2014 at 08:07 PM PST.

Also republished by Three Star Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Make It 60's Cheap Land Grant Universities (14+ / 0-)

    and then sign me up.

    It's nauseating that a WTF unexpectedly bold idea is a half measure of what living Americans once had.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Tue Feb 04, 2014 at 08:10:50 PM PST

    •  I'm too young to have gone to college (6+ / 0-)

      In the 1950s through 70s.  I went to San Jose State part-time in the 1990s, and taking about 13 years to get my BA political science degree--about 15 units per year.  And I paid the tuition by cash.  However many units I could take depended on how much tuition I could afford for each semester.  

      I wish I could have paid the 1960s tuition for my degree.  

      You are right that this "bold idea" is really a half measure of what we once had.   I just hope we can find a means to change that half measure, and bring back the bold measures of providing free education to Americans who need the updating job skills.  I'd jump into more college in a heartbeat.

      •  Took me (5+ / 0-)

        7 1/2 years to get my AS/RN, and now I don't feel so bad.  Same-ish deal, had to take at least 6 credits per semester to get PELL grants.  I had to take 9 credits per semester senior year, no choice,  so I had to take out small loans, because I couldn't work as many hours. 10 years to pay back the loans, and tax credit for interest kicked in about year 10.  :-(  

        But now our total household income is finally past the "paycheck to paycheck" level!  And at 60, I'm still young enough to enjoy.  

        "The light which puts out our sight is darkness to us." Thoreau

        by NancyWH on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 06:19:09 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  i don't know if this diarist knows that... (6+ / 0-)

      cali was great and free, weren't it, boss?
      then sir ronnie began the dismantling...

      I am tired of laughing at the irony of their stupidity.

      by stagemom on Tue Feb 04, 2014 at 08:29:03 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I don't trust Haslam. (6+ / 0-)

    Steve Cohen doesn't agree with him.

    He won't expand Medicaid under the ACA but wants to give free 2 year degrees? Taking money away from 4 year degrees?

    I just don't trust him.

    Tracy B Ann - technically that is my signature. If I had Bill Gates money, I'd buy Detroit.

    by ZenTrainer on Tue Feb 04, 2014 at 08:34:28 PM PST

    •  I do not know much of Haslam, (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      marykk, NancyWH, Lujane

      and it is possible that this policy recommendation is nothing more that a hollow talking point to convince voters that Republicans can offer more than just the usual obstructionism, hate, and shrill.  I would have never expected any Republican governor or politician to offer such a policy. This smacks of "Big Government," which Republicans have hated for the past 30 years.  This is a government handout, giving away free education.  What happened to the Republican "individualism," and the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" philosophies?

      I think the debate on growing wealth inequality between the 1 percenters, and the rest of us 99 percenters, may be starting to scare the Republican politicians.  This fear may not have filtered up into the GOP House reps and senators, but could be pressuring GOP state legislators and governors.  That could be why Haslam is advocating this policy.  Now whether he actually acts on this policy, or relegates it as a hollow talking point is another matter.

    •  That's exactly what it's all about: (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lujane, Eric Hopp, ZenTrainer

      killing off the 4-year institutions.  After all, they teach librul ideas.  Community colleges, in which tenure is practically unheard of, and in which curriculum is more rigidly dictated by politicians, are safe from charges of "critical inquiry" let alone "humanism."

      Sad thing is that Democrats are increasingly on board with feeding community colleges in order to starve the public universities.  That's more or less bipartisan postsecondary education policy in my state (Colorado).

      Dogs from the street can have all the desirable qualities that one could want from pet dogs. Most adopted stray dogs are usually humble and exceptionally faithful to their owners as if they are grateful for this kindness. -- H.M. Bhumibol Adulyadej

      by corvo on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 06:06:39 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Not true. I've held a tenured (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Eric Hopp

        position at my CC for a very long time. I began teaching here before most of my current students were born, and up until recently faculty have been in charge of the curriculum. We have enjoyed a tremendous amount of academic freedom, but things were better when the legislature didn't give a damn about education.

        Current political efforts to "reform" colleges in TN are hitting CC's and universities equally hard.

        If you’re gonna love one, you’ve got to love ‘em all. --Rev. Will Campbell

        by fiddler crabby on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 08:10:31 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  perhaps less true in your state (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Eric Hopp

          than in mine.

          Dogs from the street can have all the desirable qualities that one could want from pet dogs. Most adopted stray dogs are usually humble and exceptionally faithful to their owners as if they are grateful for this kindness. -- H.M. Bhumibol Adulyadej

          by corvo on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 08:37:48 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  That's not true at all. (0+ / 0-)

        Community colleges often serve as a first 2 years for people who want to transfer to a 4-year college as a junior.  To accomplish this, they must teach the same classes as you can find at a 4-year college.  What "librul" ideas do you find in college, that isn't taught in community colleges?

        Also, I'm a professor at a publicly funded 4-year college, and yes, I am totally on-board with feeding community colleges.  Firstly, because CC funding produces a huge benefit to the state per dollar spent; and secondly, because we need to encourage alternatives to 4-years.

        Right now we have a really dumb trend of sending everyone we can to a 4-year college, under the assumption that this is necessary to have any future.  But 4-year colleges have traditionally geared their material to a minority of students with high enough scholastic aptitude.  About half of the people who go to 4-year colleges don't get through it.  

        Arguably, this is a huge waste of time and money, and specifically it's a waste of students' time and money.  They go into debt, they spend years of their lives, and have nothing to show for it.  If so many people can't get through a 4-year program, wouldn't it make sense to direct more of them to a 2-year program, or a technical program?

        The alternative is reinventing college as something 50+% of the population can pass.  We're not really thrilled at the idea of lowering academic standards to accommodate a larger subset of the population; the alternatives are not admitting that many people, or admitting them and letting them flunk out.  The one alternative that makes sense is encouraging educational and career paths that do not require everyone to get through a 4-year college.

        Taking jokes seriously is the exact mirror activity of laughing if someone says they have cancer. --jbou

        by Caj on Thu Feb 06, 2014 at 08:45:19 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  This will probably be some kind of boon-doggle (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lujane, Eric Hopp, ZenTrainer

      for "faith-based" institutions. Somehow. Someway. I would agree with your instincts.

      You can't make this stuff up.

      by David54 on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 07:17:25 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Follow the money. How many private "technical (8+ / 0-)

    schools" will be eligible for state money, and how many of them contribute to the Governor's campaign?

  •  Republicans are not given to kind and wise deeds (5+ / 0-)

    There has got to be some tricky twist so that this benefits rich people more than young people.

    If cats could blog, they wouldn't

    by crystal eyes on Tue Feb 04, 2014 at 08:54:17 PM PST

  •  I'd be worried about the whole "mentor" thing. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Hopp, pvasileff, Ishmaelbychoice

    Would these be professional mentors or right wing brain washer types.  The reason I ask is that I saw a piece on how the Air Force Academy in CO is heavily influenced by it's neighbor, Focus on the Family.  I think a guy who used to try to counsel gay men into being straight (yea, good luck with that) was even the head of their required "counseling" program.  

    The Scientology folks have a college down in St Petersburg.  I'm glad that my parents did not send me to school there, free or otherwise.

    •  The mentoring program draws from a (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Eric Hopp, marykk

      wide range of volunteers, including faculty and staff from the community college where I teach.

      Here's the website.

      If you’re gonna love one, you’ve got to love ‘em all. --Rev. Will Campbell

      by fiddler crabby on Tue Feb 04, 2014 at 08:59:54 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I know I didn't say anything (0+ / 0-)

      About the mentor's philosophy, and what kind of advice they would be giving young students.   Will this advice be on how to adapt and cope with college, or GOP talking points to sway young voters into joining the Republican Party and vote for Republican candidates?  I think I have read somewhere that the Republican Party is having trouble recruiting young people, due to their hard-lined, extremist social positions on abortion, gay marriages, and such.  

      •  As I mentioned in the comment just above this, (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Eric Hopp, marykk

        the mentoring program draws from a wide range of volunteers. Faculty and staff at my college were asked if they'd like to participate, for example.

        The mentoring program is not a Republican cult, but brings together students and mentors who can guide them through high school and college.

        Consider doing a little more research before doing this kind of speculating.

        If you’re gonna love one, you’ve got to love ‘em all. --Rev. Will Campbell

        by fiddler crabby on Tue Feb 04, 2014 at 09:23:15 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  You're right. I'm used to the liberal method of (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Eric Hopp, marykk

          guiding a child through high school and college, otherwise known as parenting.  If a child is living at home and going to community college, I am not sure why they would need a mentor. I looked at the website, and I am still not clear on what you do.  Are you overseeing the 8 hours of community service that the program requires each quarter, etc.?

          Sorry for being overconcerned.  But, I know a person who got "mentored" in college (while he still lived at home with his parents) and ended up in a cult where he was paying some idiot $3000/hour to meditate.  His brother also got sucked in.  The family was devestated permanently.  Both sons disappeared for over 6 years and only communicated through PO boxes.  It was crazy.

  •  Can you say College Voucher? (0+ / 0-)

    The GOP has been advocating voucher programs to funnel public school money into private schools for years.  This could be a scheme to funnel state lottery funds to those same private "technical" schools.  And I'm sure these private foundation "mentors" will want some of that state lottery money as well.

  •  I teach at a community college in Tennessee, (8+ / 0-)

    and it's a good idea in principle.

    However, we're also hearing that remedial/developmental funds will disappear -- just at the time the floodgates will be opened -- and there has been an increasing reliance on very poorly paid adjuncts along with plans to eliminate tenure or drastically reduce tenure-track positions for future hires. We also may be looking at common syllabi across the state, with the possibility of pre-packaged courses having to be taught by what is essentially a script. If that happens, creative, engaged faculty will simply disappear and we'll be left with those who are willing to simply do what they're told.

    We've struggled with many years of decreasing allocations from the state; performance funding that increases the pressure to pass students through their courses; degree programs that are increasingly prescriptive, allowing students few opportunities to explore different fields of study; and K-12 education that's pretty much standardized testing all the time.

    Tuition waivers aren't the problem. There are a lot of other things coming down the pike, however, that are far more sinister.

    If you’re gonna love one, you’ve got to love ‘em all. --Rev. Will Campbell

    by fiddler crabby on Tue Feb 04, 2014 at 09:14:59 PM PST

    •  No Child Left Behind for Colleges? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Is that what I'm reading?  

      So if I'm reading this correctly, Tennessee is giving away free tuition to community colleges, but the quality of that community college education will be reduced  due to standardized course instruction taught by underpaid part-time teachers with no tenure?  Because if that's the case, we're going to have community colleges being nothing more than certificate and degree factories, churning students out who can't think or analyze for themselves.  What employer is going to want that type of student in the job market?

      •  There's a clear possibility (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Eric Hopp, pvasileff, corvo

        that this could be our future.

        That's why the focus on a relatively benign tuition waiver detracts from the very serious threats to higher education in Tennessee.

        If you’re gonna love one, you’ve got to love ‘em all. --Rev. Will Campbell

        by fiddler crabby on Tue Feb 04, 2014 at 09:31:15 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Obama calls it "Race to the Top." (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Eric Hopp

        NCLB for universities isn't exactly a new idea.

        Dogs from the street can have all the desirable qualities that one could want from pet dogs. Most adopted stray dogs are usually humble and exceptionally faithful to their owners as if they are grateful for this kindness. -- H.M. Bhumibol Adulyadej

        by corvo on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 06:08:01 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Tennessee is NOT a SMALL state (5+ / 0-)

    Only someone who lives in the big 4, CA, TX, NY and FL could say that with a straight face, but even then it would show a profound ignorance of the typical make up of most American states.

    Out of 50, it's 17th.

    To put it in perspective, only 1 state is about 6x larger than Tennessee and that's California.

    Tennessee on the other hand is 6x or more larger in terms of population than the bottom 8 states.

    Nothing gives red states power they do not deserve than assuming they are small.

  •  That's just to ruin actual universities. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Hopp

    CC's teach job skills, universities (at least in theory) teach criticl thinking.

    It's not the side effects of the cocaine/I'm thinking that it must be love

    by Rich in PA on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 05:21:51 AM PST

    •  No. I teach at a CC (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Eric Hopp, ZenTrainer

      And we provide the same core curriculum as the universities. That's why our courses transfer.

      Our students fall into three groups:
      About one third are seeking career certification.
      Another third are planning to transfer to a four-year institution, but choose us for smaller classes at a lower cost.
      The final third aren't sure what they want to do.

      If you’re gonna love one, you’ve got to love ‘em all. --Rev. Will Campbell

      by fiddler crabby on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 08:05:18 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Critical thinking should be taught in both (0+ / 0-)

      Community colleges and universities.  Critical thinking is certainly an important job skill to learn.  If you have a problem in a process, a service, or production line, you are going to need to think of a way to solve that problem.  I'm sure there are ways for creative teachers to think up challenging problems in these community college job skills courses to force students to critically think of solutions to these problems.  

      Or am I completely wrong here? Do employers really want workers who can critically think on the job, and who may become more smarter than their managers?  Or do employers want monkeys who will do every task they are told, be paid the minimum wage, and sing praise to the company for giving them a low wage, menial job?  

  •  It takes two years of remedial English (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Hopp

    just to get high school graduates up to the level of college entrance in literacy.
    Ditto math.

    You can't make this stuff up.

    by David54 on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 07:19:35 AM PST

  •  It's an industry play. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fiddler crabby, Eric Hopp

    Here's a fairly recent list of Tennessee's 25 largest employers:

    Eastman Chemical Co., 10,000
    Southern Tennessee Medical Center, 9,300
    Covenant Transportation Group, 5,000
    Davidson Hotel Co LLC, 5,000
    B & W, 4,750
    Nissan North America Inc., 4,400
    Baptist Memorial, 4,000
    Lockheed Martin Energy Res, 4,000
    McKee Foods Corp., 3,795
    Gaylord Entertainment Co., 3,622
    Technicolor Home Entertainment, 3,500
    Federal Express Corp., 3,000
    International Paper Co., 3,000
    Seton Corp., 2,900
    Tennessee West Healthcare Jackson, 2,627
    Baptist Health System of East Knoxville, 2,500
    Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 2,500
    Maytag Corp., 2,500
    Denso Manufacturing Tennessee, 2,200
    Aerospace Testing Alliance, 2,100
    Johnson City Medical Center, 2,080
    Ingram Book Group Inc., 2,048
    Baptist Hospital West Inc., 2,000
    Maury Regional Hospital Inc., 2,000
    Now, how many positions at those employers call for a Bachelor's degree or better?

    In principle, this is NOT a bad thing; I think we can all agree that many folks simply aren't suited for (or interested in) university-level pursuits, and I think we can all agree that there is honor in ANY legitimate work. So, there are many folks who will benefit with respect to "building job skills."

    Color me cautiously optimistic.

    The word "parent" is supposed to be a VERB, people...

    by wesmorgan1 on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 07:44:39 AM PST

  •  Could be a very smart cost saving measure (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fiddler crabby, Eric Hopp, ZenTrainer

    in addition to the other benefits. Rather than pay for the much higher costs for students to take remedial classes at a 4 year university (only to then have many of them drop out or flunk out) you give them 2 free years at a much less expensive community college during which they get those necessary skills and then transfer to a 4 year prepared to be there. This is on top of the students who would now have free tuition to get an associates degree in a job related field rather than having to finance that education with student loans. Haslam is a republican, but he's no Rick Perry. He at least tries to be a good manager of the state and isn't a social issue ideologue. I have been about as happy as it's possible to be with a republican.

    •  The good thing about Haslam (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      is that he doesn't really care about social issues. If there's not a buck to be made, he's not interested.

      There's not much difference between him and our Democratic governors.

      The legislature is packed to the gills with right wing nutjobs -- see this bill for an example  -- but the governor doesn't buy into most of it.

      If you’re gonna love one, you’ve got to love ‘em all. --Rev. Will Campbell

      by fiddler crabby on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 02:05:16 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yeah I'd agree (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        fiddler crabby

        The difference between he and Bredesen and Sundquist, etc... is pretty minimal.

        I live in Scott Desjarlais' district, soon to be replaced by Jim Tracy. We were a blue dog district with Bart Gordon for a long time, but the blue dog purge of a decade ago was the end of that.

  •  It will force 4 year schools to lower tuition (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Hopp

    On Freshmen and Sophomores while raising for Juniors and Seniors.

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