KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A record-breaking number of students applied for the Tennessee Promise program in 2022 according to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

The recent application cycle closed on Nov. 1 and 64,612 high school seniors applied for Tennessee Promise. THEC said this was the largest number of applicants in the program’s history to date. The previous highest number of applicants was in 2019 with 64,243. On average, around 26% of applicants go on to enroll in college.

THEC said this is a good sign in their efforts to increase the number of students going to college. Earlier this year, the commission launched a state-level initiative to create “a momentum-building year with key goals to increase the college-going rate and better align education to meet the state’s growing workforce needs.”

This initiative came after THEC released data showing in 2020 the number of students enrolled in college dropped to under 57% and dropped again to 53% in 2021. However, while overall college enrollment dropped, analysts from the Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability found several COVID-19-related changes to the Tennessee Promise program increased the program’s enrollment in 2020. However, the program also saw a drop in 2021 consistent with the decline in college-going.

The Tennessee Promise program includes a “last-dollar scholarship” that gives recent high school graduates the chance to finish an associate degree or certificate program free of tuition and mandatory fees at a public community college, a Tennessee College of Applied Technology, or a university with an eligible associate degree program. The program also pairs Tennessee Promise students with a mentor and support through tnAchieves and The Ayers Foundation.

Every year, THEC shares a report outlining the impact of Tennessee Promise. The report shares data about Tennessee Promise applicants and students, student outcomes, student transfer behavior, and program finances. Key findings from the Tennessee Promise Annual Report for 2022 include:

  • Since the program began in 2015, more than 123,000 Tennessee Promise students have been given more than $181 million in scholarships to help cover college costs.
  • Tennessee Promise applicants file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and complete community service at high rates.
  • More than 15,000 Tennessee Promise students have transferred to a four-year Tennessee public university to continue their education. THEC said this number continues to grow as the program continues.

With Tennessee’s college-going rate trending downward, THEC is working to bring the entire state together to take action to inform and engage more students about the educational and job training options they have after high school. As a part of this goal, they held over 500 meetings across the state with local education agencies, higher education institutions, business and industry and workforce development leaders, and community-based organizations to discuss strategies to support student success.

The increase in applicants is also a hopeful sign that the state will be able to reach the Drive to 55 plan which seeks to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with college degrees or certificates to 55% by 2025. In April 2022, Tennessee Comptroller’s Office said 46.8% of Tennesseans had college degrees or certificates.