Gov. Bill Haslam thanked members of the Tennessee General Assembly for supporting the Tennessee Reconnect Act. (Photo: Staff)

Tennessee is set to become the first state in the country to offer high school graduates and older adults the chance to earn a postsecondary degree for free and at no cost to taxpayers. 

"In Tennessee, we’ve determined that the best jobs plan is an education plan," Gov. Bill Haslam said in a prepared statement. "If we want to have jobs ready for Tennesseans, we have to make sure that Tennesseans are ready for jobs, and there is no smarter investment than increasing access to high-quality education."

Building off the Tennessee Promise program, which provides high school graduates two years of community or technical college free of tuition and fees, the Tennessee Reconnect Act establishes a last-dollar scholarship for adults to attend a community college tuition-free. The legislation is on its way to the governor’s desk after being passed by the General Assembly.

Drive to 55 is the governor’s initiative to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2025.

Currently, Tennessee needs 871,000 postsecondary degrees or certificates to reach 55 percent, but mathematically, there’s no way to reach that goal by only serving high school students. There are over 900,000 adults in Tennessee who have some college but no degree, according to a news release. 

Tennessee adults without a certificate can already attend Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology tuition-free under the current Reconnect program. The Tennessee Reconnect Act adds community colleges to the program, funded through the lottery for education account. Click here for more information on the Tennessee Reconnect Act.

The Tennessee Reconnect Act is part of NextTennessee, Haslam’s 2017 legislative agenda aimed at building and sustaining economic growth and the state’s competitiveness for the next generation of Tennesseans.

"Just as we did with Tennessee Promise, we’re making a clear statement to families: Wherever you fall on life’s path, education beyond high school is critical to the Tennessee we can be," Haslam also said. "I thank the Legislature, particularly the bill’s sponsors, Leader Norris and Reps. Hawk and Powers, for their partnership in this important effort and look forward to signing the bill."