By Andrew Witzel

State lawmakers in Tennessee passed a law on Wednesday giving final approval to Gov. Bill Haslam’s landmark plan to make tuition free at the states community college for all residents that currently don’t hold a degree. Gov. Haslam is set to sign the bill today making it a state law. Tennessee already allows new high school graduates the chance to attend community college through the Tennessee Promise scholarship program and extending this model to include adults over 24 was one of the top initiatives he had for this year. Haslam has already become the national leader in the fight for tuition-free college that Republicans and Democrats have taken up in several states to establish programs similar to Tennessee’s program.

Education has been a hot button topic for several years with debates around No Child Left Behind and Common Core curriculums across the country. The clear divide between the top earners and basically the rest of the country often starts with the level of education achieved and what is even possible given financial restrictions. Haslam has, through the passing of this new law, basically said that he’s fed up with the financial divide between the 1% and the 99% and wants his state residents to have at least a fighting chance of making their lives better for themselves and their children. Community college is stepping stone to kicking off life long learning for those that want to seize the opportunities being given to them. An Associate Degree can provide a greater ability to earn more money and get better jobs that can, in some cases, offer additional assistance towards a Bachelor’s Degree. The effect is self-fulfilling in that as each step is achieved, it opens many more doors to opportunity that otherwise would never have been possible.

Tennessee should be praised for taking this crucial first step in helping their states citizens as it will only provide dividends for decades to come into the future. A more educated work force will add entire lifetimes of productivity for the cost of 1-2 years of tuition. Haslam putting this program into place is setting Tennessee up for the future success of the state.

There is no smarter investment than increasing access to high quality education.

The state’s network of 13 community colleges are already working on plans to accommodate the swell of students when the program launches in 2018. They are considering nighttime, weekend, and remote learning offerings to help with adult’s busy schedules. The colleges are a critical piece of the Governors plan to make sure that Tennesseans are ready for jobs now and into the future. Tennessee should be a model to the rest of the country demonstrating that a free education plan is the best jobs plan. Putting faith in Americans and their drive for education to take advantage of the potential payoff in attracting big businesses is just plain smart no matter how you look at it.

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