Six Central students eye two years' free college

Thursday, November 13, 2014
These Shelbyville Central High School seniors plan to use Tennessee Promise. Pictured, in no particular order, Keith Cook; Brianna Taylor; Luc Zahorian; Arin Harwell; Leah Davis; and Russell Bridgers. (T-G Photo by Jason Reynolds)

The promise of free tuition has many Bedford County high school seniors thinking of -- and re-thinking -- their college plans.

Tennessee Promise offers two years of higher education with no tuition or fees. The offer applies to community colleges, Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) and four-year universities that offer an associate's degree.

First year

The program is for students graduating from high school starting in 2015 and then in later years. This year's seniors must have applied for the program by Nov. 1 to qualify. To earn the money, they must meet a number of deadlines throughout this academic year. So even if they are enrolled, they may not receive the money.

A total of 502 high school seniors in Bedford County are enrolled, said Wayne Dillingham, a mentor for Tennessee Promise. He also is coordinator of the Middle Tennessee Education Center (MTEC). Mentors advise seniors throughout the application process.

Mentors

There are 91 mentors in Bedford County, said Jennifer Dreis, regional coordinator for tnAchieves, the organization directing Tennessee Promise throughout most of the state.

Those who want to become a mentor should attend a training session at 3:30 p.m. Nov. 19 at Cascade High School. For more information or to sign up for the training, go online to tnachieves.org/mentor-training-sessions.

'Free college'

Shelbyville Central High School senior Luc Zahorian said he had planned on joining the military, but not now. He said he plans on attending Motlow State Community College with an undecided major and take his time planning what to do after his two free years of school.

"It's free college," he said. "I don't want to pass it up."

His guidance counselor, Mark Hall, said that all of the seniors he is counseling are signed up. To receive the money, they must "jump through hoops" such as performing community service, filling out federal aid applications and attend two mentoring sessions.

Perfect timing

Arin Harwell also plans to attend Motlow, for pre-med, and then Middle Tennessee State University. Arin said she loves Tennessee Promise because she has a 4.0 but is not a test-taker and did not do well on the SAT, so she cannot get scholarships.

"Now, I can prove myself," she said. "It's a God thing."

Tennessee Promise came along at the right time for Arin, Hall said.

"She's speaking about things that affect a lot of students," he said. "Those who do not do good on the SAT."

Future plans

Keith Cook is taking dual-enrollment industrial maintenance courses at TCAT-Shelbyville three nights a week. He attends classes at Central for partial days and works afterward. He plans to do factory maintenance after finishing at TCAT-S.

Leah Davis said she will attend Motlow even though she does not consider it "free" since she has to perform community service. She plans to go into nursing.

Russell Bridgers said he also plans to attend Motlow, then work to save money for MTSU. He wants to study computer animation.