Everyone needs encouragement. It provides an exhale during times of uncertainty or stress. After more than a decade of leading tnAchieves, the partnering organization to TN Promise in 90 Tennessee counties, I witness the life-changing power of encouragement each day.
When Governor Bill Haslam and the General Assembly launched TN Promise in 2014, it was instantly celebrated as a national model. While much more mainstream just five years later, the concept of tuition and fee free college at a statewide level was unprecedented. Headlines, stories and conversations touted the funding component as the game changer for our state and its students. These captured half the magic.
The scholarship component of TN Promise is huge. I believe it has changed kitchen table discussions regarding the options surrounding earning a college credential. I have heard from countless students and families that their conversations shifted from “if college was an option” to “which college represents the best fit.” I often say the scholarship is the carrot that brings students to our program. And the program is the magic.
tnAchieves seeks to eliminate the barriers keeping Tennessee’s students from going to and ultimately graduating from college. In partnership with the state of Tennessee and our colleges, we offer summer programs focused on eliminating remediation. Because tnAchieves has strong relationships with business and industry, we host job shadow opportunities which allow our students to gain exposure to high demand careers. We cultivate students who seek to give back to their communities with our community service requirement and have amassed more than 2.55 million hours to date!
We send more than 10 million emails and 2 million text messages each year to our students and families to ensure they understand how to navigate college. We also provide a dedicated tnAchieves coach to our most vulnerable student populations to give them the additional support they most often need to find success.
All this scaffolding is the tnAchieves contribution to our state’s Drive to 55 goal – the mission to reach 55 percent post-secondary attainment by 2025. Our goals of shepherding more students to college (i.e., community, technical and four-year institutions) and supporting more students to a college credential while straightforward in nature require more than funds and academic support.
While these strategies strengthen the magic, the heart of the program remains our volunteer mentors. Since inception, tnAchieves believed in the power of a local support system – providing our students with someone who had their back during the transition from high school to college.
Our mentors answer questions like, “what is a semester?” and “how do I approach my professor?” They also nudge important deadlines, share their education and career journeys and reassure students that they are, in fact, meant for college. Often this combination of resource and encourager change a student’s perspective about college. Mentors foster the confidence many students need to make the leap to college. This is particularly true for our students who are the first in their families to attend college.
Mentors provide the spark many students were missing. We witness this magic in stories heard across the state regarding the mentor’s impact in a student’s life. We also see this in the data – our students are outpacing their non-TN Promise peers in college completion by 21 percentage points.
The time commitment is small. We have found that it only takes one hour per month to serve as a local support system to our TN Promise students. One hour a month to be part of the magic that helps students succeed. This year represents a record year for tnAchieves – more than 63,000 students need a volunteer mentor!
As we push to our goal of 9,000 volunteers recruited, I hope you will join tnAchieves as we seek to change lives and transform communities by believing in the power of education and providing the opportunity for every student to be a part of this life-altering experience.
Editor’s note: At present, Lincoln County still needs five more mentors to reach its goal of 52.