Summer feels like it just started, but school will be back in before we know it.
For some students, this will be the start of their senior year. I know several who are starting their last year of school, and I'm sure you do too.
Those young people, if they haven't already, will need to decide what they'll do after graduating high school. It's a challenging but promising time for our high school seniors, as they look forward to finally graduating and start to plan their lives.
To get a good job and earn a living, they will need some type of education after high school.
For that reason, Tennessee has made a new promise to those students: we will allow you to attend a community college or college of applied technology completely free. That's right, you read this right: you won't owe any tuition or carry any debt after you graduate.
Let's talk first about why we're doing this. Currently in Tennessee, only 32 percent of people have a degree of any kind, whether it's a bachelor's, associate's or even a technical certificate. Here in Shelby County, only about a third of people have an associate's degree or above.
For that reason, the governor introduced the Drive to 55 challenge. The idea is that 55 percent of Tennesseans need a degree by 2025, if our state will continue to recruit new jobs and be successful.
On our current path, in addition to the number of people we think will go to college anyway, we need another half million people to get a degree.
That's where that promise I talked about comes in. We know that every year, there are 20,000 Tennessee students who graduate high school, but either choose not to keep going or don't have the means.
Here in Memphis it's no different. About 78 percent of students gradate high school, but only two thirds will continue their education. We have to do better if we want more good-paying jobs in Shelby County.
So we've made a new promise, the Tennessee Promise. No matter where you come from, you will be able to afford to get an education after high school. It's projected that 9,880 Shelby County students will be offered a scholarship to continue their education after they graduate next May.
There are no qualifications to join the Tennessee Promise and attend community college, only that you graduate high school, and then maintain a 2.0 grade point average once you're there.
We're able to fund this new promise because of the success of the Tennessee lottery. We have a $300 million surplus in our lottery fund – that's in addition to the money that pays for HOPE scholarships every year. We're using a portion of that surplus to start an endowment that will pay for the Tennessee Promise for years to come.
Now that we're making this new promise to our high school seniors in Tennessee, I would challenge those seniors to make a promise of your own. Promise yourself to invest in your future, to take this opportunity for the promise of a better future.
(State Sen. Reginald Tate represents part of Shelby County in the General Assembly.)