We continue to see great indicators of the growing college-going culture in Tennessee as more students and their families in Tennessee see expectations of college enrollment.
For the second year in a row, Tennessee leads the nation in Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) filings. The Tennessee Higher Education Commission, using data from the U.S. Department of Education, estimates that 70.3 percent of 2015-16 high school seniors in our state filed a FAFSA. A year ago, the rate was 69.5 percent. The second highest rate of applications this year was in New Jersey, where 60.7 percent of students applied.
The applications for federal aid show that students understand the importance of a postsecondary degree or credential, and they are willing to pursue the opportunity through programs like the Tennessee Promise, which sends students to our community colleges or colleges of applied technology at no cost to them.
In the first year of the Tennessee Promise, 40 percent of all FAFSA applications in the nation came from Tennessee. The figures compiled by THEC for this year’s class of high school graduates show that the interest in the process continues.
The trend is crucial for Tennessee. We have set a goal of having 55 percent of our high school graduates get a postsecondary degree or credential. We’re currently at 37 percent. The first year of the Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect, which appeals to adults who never got a college degree, resulted in a 25-percent increase in first-time freshman enrollment in community college and a 20-percent increase in first-time freshmen at our TCATs.
We had some impressive FAFSA filing rates, with Trousdale County leading the state with 96 percent of its students filing. Overton County had a 94.4 percent filing rate and Lewis County 90.2 percent. We had 27 Tennessee counties with filing rates of 80 percent or above.
Just filing a FAFSA is not the same as completing college. In fact, we have to be focused on success in college, not just access. But the FAFSA figures show that families, school leaders and communities, as well as students themselves, see the potential in postsecondary education and are on board with programs like the Tennessee Promise and our Drive to 55.
Students in Tennessee are recognizing that going to college is not only an option for them, but an expectation. With more students enrolling, more will get degrees, and that means more will get good-paying jobs, which is the ultimate goal of our Drive to 55.
For more information about the Tennessee Promise, please visit tnpromise.gov and for Tennessee Reconnect visit tnreconnect.gov.
Bill Haslam has been Governor of Tennessee since 2011.