Private Colleges Contend Plan For Free Community College Limits Options

Under the Tennessee Promise plan, HOPE scholarships to four-year institutions like Vanderbilt would be backloaded. The amount given to freshmen and sophomores would be a thousand dollars less, with more money going to juniors and seniors. It essentially makes it more economically favorable to go to a community college first, then transfer to a university. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLN

Under the Tennessee Promise plan, HOPE scholarships to four-year institutions like Vanderbilt would be backloaded. The amount given to freshmen and sophomores would be a thousand dollars less, with more money going to juniors and seniors. It essentially makes it more economically favorable to go to a community college first, then transfer to a university. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLN

Tennessee’s private universities are saying “not so fast” to Governor Haslam’s plan to make community college free. They contend the proposal essentially makes it harder for students with less money to choose the school that’s right for them.

Claude Pressnell is President of the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association, which includes schools like Watkins College and Vanderbilt University. He says about 40% of the students at those schools qualify for a federal Pell Grant. In other words, they come from the same economic background as the usual community college student. And he says they often need every dollar of the lottery-funded HOPE scholarships. The governor’s plan would reduce that aid for the first two years of a four-year school.

“It’s a very laudable goal for the governor to want to provide access to the community colleges in this way, however, it really shouldn’t be done on the back of the freshmen and sophomores at the university level.”

Pressnell contends some students need to be immersed in the full four-year setting to be successful. But the governor’s proposal has gained national praise from experts who say it’s not about pushing people from one kind of school to another, but rather attracting those who weren’t planning on any kind of college at all.

 

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