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Officials say virtual learning is impacting Tennessee Promise applications

Officials say Tennessee Promise applications are lower this year than in 2019.

MEMPHIS, Tenn — How does tuition-free college sound?

Thousands of high school seniors can take advantage of it through the Tennessee Promise Scholarship.

So why is the application rate down with the November 2nd deadline almost here?

In a year that’s marked by masks, socially distanced events, and virtual learning, it’s an uncertain year for high school seniors headed to college.

What’s not changing is the money available to Tennessee high school seniors – but many aren’t in classrooms where counselors can easily help them with scholarship applications. 

“Students aren’t in the building,” said Graham Thomas, the deputy director of partnerships at Tennessee Achieves, which is in partnership with Tennessee Promise.  “So historically, I think counselors pulled students into computer labs and all the seniors applied for Tennessee Promise when they visited homerooms and they all applied. They can’t do that this year.”

Tennessee Promise provides graduating seniors the chance to select a higher-education institution for two years tuition free. 

The application deadline is Monday and officials said they are seeing a lower turnout in applications this year compared to 2019. 

“We’re seeing statewide right now Tennessee Promise applications are down about 10% from this exact same time as last year,” Thomas said. “Shelby County specifically is down about 14%.”

This time last year 55,500 students applied for the scholarship, this year they’re under 50,000. 

Last year in total 63,000 students applied. 

“I think there’s just a lot of unknown where there’s already a lot of uncertainty. There’s even more so right now. Will classes be online? Will classes be in person?”

Many Tennessee Promise applicants are part of the first generation in their family to go to college, which can make the process difficult.

“So we know that there’s a lot of uncertainty that if no one in your family or no one in your direct support system has been before it can just be really challenging to navigate,” said Thomas. “So we give them someone that’s in their corner helping them figure out all those things.” 

If you or someone you know is interested in being a mentor, you can apply with Tennessee Promise.