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Free tuition is just the start

To help improve graduation rates, a Nashville nonprofit is supporting community college students outside of the classroom

In Tennessee, high school students are able to attend a community or technical college tuition-free thanks to a state scholarship and mentoring program called Tennessee Promise. A similar program called Tennessee Reconnect offers the same free tuition to adults returning to school.

Yet the Nashville State Community College Foundation (NSCCF) has found that simply removing the initial barrier of paying tuition doesn’t ensure that students will complete their degree, securing a pathway towards the kinds of better-paying jobs that a two-year degree can open up. At the seven-campus Nashville State Community College system, where 40% of students are in one of these two free-tuition programs, the graduation rate is just 12%.

One problem is that tuition is far from the only expense students face when they arrive on campus. That’s why the Nashville State Community College Foundation has launched the Beyond Financial Aid initiative to provide a more comprehensive range of support resources–helping students with essential living expenses such as transportation, textbooks, childcare and meals. A grant from Bank of America will support the program at the school’s Davidson County campuses.

By removing financial hurdles to completing a degree and helping students get through college, not just into college, the Foundation has set a goal of doubling Nashville State Community College’s graduation rate to 24% by 2023.

Originally published 3/15/2021

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