KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The fall of 2020 saw the largest number of students enroll in the Tennessee Promise program since it began. The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office noted in its latest update that the rise in applicants may be due to adjustments to the scholarship requirements as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

19,326 Promise students enrolled in college in Fall 2020, the largest cohort since the program began in 2015. Analysts from the Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability (OREA) point to two COVID-19 related changes allowing more students to remain eligible, allowing students to attend a mandatory mentor meeting online and waving the community service requirement.

Since 2017, Tennessee’s overall college-going rate has been declining and it reached a 10-year low in 2020, according to OREA. In addition, OREA said the number of students applying for the Promise scholarship has decreased since 2019, and Promise student success has declined from 2015 to 2017.

The growth seen for the fall 2020 Promise students was not seen for the next year. In 2021, fewer students applied for Tennessee Promise. This is worrying to OREA because while Tennessee is currently on track to meet the Drive to 55 goal analysts believe more work may be needed to reach the goal of having 55% of Tennesseans with a postsecondary credential by 2025. At this time, OREA says the attainment rate is 46.8%