Pellissippi Sees Higher Enrollment and Completion Under Tennessee Promise

Apr 2, 2019

University of Tennessee researcher Lisa Driscoll talks about Tennessee Promise at a press conference, April 2, 2019.
Credit Brandon Hollingsworth, WUOT News

Pellissippi State Community College saw increased enrollment, improved graduation rates and higher minority enrollment since the launch of Tennessee Promise in 2015, according to a study released today.

The report from the University of Tennessee Postsecondary Education Research Center found first-time freshman enrollment at Pellissippi went up 25 percent in Tennessee Promise’s first semester Last fall, two out of every three Pellissippi freshmen were Tennessee Promise beneficiaries.

Since 2015, African American enrollment rose from 5 percent to 6.4 percent, and Hispanic enrollment increased from 4.4 percent to 5.9 percent. And students in the program were more likely to take on heavier class loads than their peers.

“Students enrolled in Tennessee Promise attempted more credit hours, on average, than other students,” said Lisa Driscoll, the UT researcher who led the study.

The findings confirm some of the anecdotal reports community college officials have noted since Tennessee Promise launched.

“It’s very helpful to know that we felt was true, is borne out by the data,” said Kathy Byrd, Pellissippi’s interim Vice President for Academic Affairs. “What’s best to know, though, is that a lot of [students] are successful. Students who maybe had not thought about going to college before would now attend college, and that we could provide them the support to be successful.”

The last-dollar scholarship program is part of former Governor Bill Haslam’s larger “Drive to 55” effort, whose goal is getting college degrees into the hands of 55 percent of Tennesseans by the year 2025. Tennessee Promise steps in when other grants and scholarships are exhausted, closing tuition and fee gaps that might otherwise bar a student from securing a degree or certificate from one of the state’s community and technical colleges, or select other schools.

As higher education adviser to Haslam, Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd helped create and launch Tennessee Promise. Today, Boyd is interim president of the University of Tennessee system.

“It doesn’t really do us any good to get [students] into school if we don’t get them out of school. We want to graduate them,” Boyd said. “So the most important part is making sure they’re successful.”

The studies released today is the first in a series of reports that will track the program’s effects at Pellissippi State and Middle Tennessee’s Cumberland University. Other schools may be included in future analysis, said Driscoll. The findings from the initial study will be used to shape more in-depth work to track changes and trends over longer timeframes.