Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Barbara Thayer-Bacon

Committee Members

Ralph Brockett, Lisa Yamagata-Lynch, Ashlee Anderson


Tennessee Promise is a tuition-free community college scholarship program for high school graduates that was initiated in Tennessee in 2015. This program is part of the State of Tennessee’s Drive to 55 initiative, the goal of which is to have 55% of the state’s workforce with a post-high school credential by 2025. This qualitative study was designed to learn how students who used TN Promise and graduated between 2015 and 2019 value their community college education experience. The research questions are: 1) What value do TN Promise students place on their education given that it is tuition-free? 2) What are students’ perceptions of their learning experience? 3) How do students balance school, work, and family commitments? 4) Where do students place their educational commitments in their lives?

Twelve face-to-face interviews were conducted with community college graduates, and the resulting data was coded into various themes. The themes identified were then used to describe how Tennessee Promise graduates value their experience. The results were grouped into the following categories: Family, Opportunities, Community, Self-Learning, and Financial Awareness. This study supports the conclusion that TN Promise graduates value much more than a degree. They value learning for the sake of learning. TN Promise is a program that provides much needed and much appreciated funding for Tennesseans to learn skills that will help them eventually provide for themselves, their families, and their communities.

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