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Report: Some find Tenn. free college tuition offers out of reach



NASHVILLE, Tenn. (OSBORNE)  --  A new report suggests Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature programs to make a college degree accessible to more Tennesseans aren’t benefiting everyone equally.

Haslam’s Tennessee Promise initiative makes two years of free college or trade school education available to high school graduates. His Tennessee Reconnect program does the same for adults.

But a report released jointly by Nashville Mayor David Briley and the education advocacy group Complete Tennessee says some of Metro’s poorest residents struggle to start or stay in school even when the cost of tuition is covered.

The study is based on surveys and thirteen listening sessions citywide. Among the problems mentioned: difficulties navigating registration paperwork, taking on insupportable debt in spite of the tuition break, being underprepared for college life, and some students feeling like they didn’t belong on campus.

Although successful today, Jeremy Jennings is a good example of the latter. He grew up in J.C. Napier public housing. Jenninngs started college, but dropped out for a while, feeling like he was out of his element.

“Up until probably a few years ago, I felt more comfortable around gang members, drug dealers and things like that versus how I would around doctors, teachers, lawyers.”

Complete Tennessee Director Kenyatta Lovett says the report makes several recommendations. They include financial counseling, childcare, more public transportation, and what he calls “learn and earn opportunities.”

“Can we provide internships and apprenticeships so that residents can have the opportunity to, instead of working two or three jobs to go to college, to actually work and earn a good wage while going to college.”

Here's a link to the complete study.