The University of Tennessee announced Thursday that it will be launching a new program to help make education more accessible to in-state students in need.

The school’s interim President Randy Boyd announced at a March 14 state of the university address that the school’s “UT Promise” program will provide free tuition to qualifying Tennessee residents looking to attend UT. Once the scholarship is offered in fall 2020, it will also be available for students already attending UT or residents who wish to transfer from other schools.

university of tennesee
The University of Tennessee interim President Randy Boyd (center) announced plans for a free-tuition scholarship March 14. He’s flanked by (from left) Chancellor Keith Carver of University of Tennessee at Martin,  Chancellor Tim Cross from the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, University of Tennessee Chancellor Wayne T. Davis, and Dr. Steven Angle, chancellor of University of Tennessee Chattanooga. (Photo: University of Tennessee)

“It is critically important that we take a lead role in ensuring students can achieve their dream of obtaining an undergraduate college degree,” Boyd said during the announcement last week. “It is our mission and responsibility to do everything we can to ease the financial burden for our middle- and working-class families, and UT Promise is an ideal conduit to achieve that.”

In-state students hoping to make use of the scholarship must meet the following criteria: have a family household income under $50,000, qualify for the Tennessee HOPE Scholarship and meet the academic qualifications of the university. The latter includes taking a freshman’s core GPA into account as well as their standardized test scores. The scholarship isn’t available to out of state students who may qualify for other ways to pay the $49,000 out of state tuition.

Once enrolled at UT’s campuses in Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Martin, the students will be matched with volunteer mentors and will be required to complete four hours of service learning each semester.

“UT Promise” is described on the University’s website as a “transformative new scholarship to help students achieve their dreams.” It is considered a last-dollar scholarship. That means it covers any gaps in payment left after all financial aid and grants have been received by the university.

To help fund the effort, the University of Tennessee Foundation will simultaneously launch the UT Promise Endowment campaign. In the meantime, the cost of it will be covered by the university.

“This endowment will allow this to truly be a promise and guarantee for years to come,” Boyd said.

Such a program being offered at UT comes at a time when 46 percent of the university’s students graduate without debt. However, costs to attend colleges are increasing. The National Education Center for Statistics reported that the average undergraduate tuition, fees, room, and board at public institutions increased by 34 percent between the 2005-2006 school year and the 2015-2016 school year. In that same time span, the cost to attend a private university rose 26 percent.

The University of Tennessee’s program to combat these rising costs and make higher education more accessible joins similar tuition-free programs offered in other states, according to ThinkProgress.

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