By Scott Robertson
East Tennessee State University will begin offering four-year “last-dollar” scholarships and extensive assistance to incoming freshmen this fall. The ETSU Promise Plus program is an attempt to take price out of low-income students’ decision of where to go to college. It is also an effort to boost enrollment, raise completion rates and stem the tide of students taking their first two years of college at community colleges.
The program targets those with the greatest financial hardship. It will be open to first-time, full-time freshmen eligible for the Tennessee Education Lottery (HOPE) Scholarship and the maximum Pell Grant. “It’s an effort for we as an institution to show what we can do to wrap our arms around those students in the state of Tennessee who are interested in pursuing their dreams,” said ETSU President Dr. Brian Noland at a Jan. 17 news conference introducing the program. The program will cover a student’s last-dollar amount of tuition and program service fees after other financial aid, including Pell Grant, HOPE Scholarship, and institutional scholarships, are applied.
“I’m excited about the statement this provides at the beginning of a decade and the leadership role that this institution will provide throughout the decade to ensure that more students in the state of Tennessee have the opportunity to realize their college dreams, and for us to take price and cost and set it to the side and focus on message,” Noland said, “a message that college is possible, college is affordable, and this is the right institution for you.”
Other four-year institutions have put need-based scholarship programs in place since former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s Tennessee Promise initiative began offering free community college tuition across the state. The key differentiator between ETSU Promise Plus and other college and university scholarship programs is the amount of support offered by the university in addition to financial support.
Besides the scholarship itself, ETSU Promise Plus benefits include participation in pre-college programs including new student orientation, Preview ETSU and early move-in to the residence halls. Program benefits include access to faculty and peer mentors, academic tutoring services, career support, a first-year experience course, and membership in the Buccaneer Family Association. Students living on campus can receive up to $6,000 in on-campus housing scholarships ($1,500 annually).
“The program waives fees for university orientation programs,” said Dr. Joe Sherlin, vice president for Student Life and Enrollment.
“It incentivizes student to bring their parents and families to university orientation to receive critical information that we know will help students and families get off to a great start. It enables students to attend our pre-college connection programs that create a sense of belonging at the institution at no cost.
“Students connect to faculty,” Sherlin said. “They connect to peers in those pre-college experiences. Now, they can participate in those programs through ETSU Promise Plus at no cost.
“In the most critical year in student success, the first year, we’re saving seats for our ETSU Promise Plus students in our first-year experience courses. Those courses include a faculty mentor and a peer mentor. Specifically, those roles will help students connect to the institution and will provide support throughout the first year to get engaged at the institution in meaningful ways. That course will also connect them to advising career support and academic support.”
The university anticipates around 100 students will take advantage of the ETSU Promise Plus program to enroll in Fall 2020 classes.
“This is not just simply an enrollment-driven initiative,” Noland said. “It’s really a mission-driven initiative. As an institution, it’s our mission to serve students who have the desire to attend a university and realize their dreams of a baccalaureate degree. For many students, particularly low-income students, that hurdle was difficult to overcome.
“We want students to make their institutional choice based on best fit, not on price. That’s what this scholarship program will allow us to do.”