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Free Community College? Tennessee Proposal Draws Praise and Concerns

As policy makers and colleges grapple with how to attract and retain the growing population of low-income and first-generation college students to programs that prepare them for the 21st-century work force, a bachelor’s degree, or both, the biggest conundrum has been how to do that without increasing the financial burden for either students or the states.

Gov. William E. Haslam of Tennessee this week proposed a relatively simple idea: Have the state pay the tuition and fees of all high-school graduates who want to go to a community or technical college for two years. The governor’s plan, called the Tennessee Promise, would use state lottery reserves to create an endowment to pay for the program, estimated to cost about $34-million the first year, if it is approved by the General Assembly.