Two years of outreach is producing the first class of community college graduates.


Students across the state are graduating from community college this month through a unique outreach program with the Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS).


More than two years ago, TDHS launched an effort to encourage high school seniors receiving benefits through Families First to apply for the Tennessee Promise.  That outreach later expanded to include families receiving benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) and families who receive child support services.


The Tennessee Promise launched in 2014, making Tennessee the first state in the country to offer high school graduates two years of community or technical college free of tuition and fees.


TDHS’s outreach brought commitments from 938 high school seniors to sign up for the Tennessee Promise the first year, followed by 4,592 commitments the following year, and an additional 6,214 students last fall.


The success with Tennessee Promise outreach has led to an additional effort this year with the Tennessee Reconnect program that provides free community college for adult Tennesseans who don’t already have an associate or bachelor degree.


Nearly 500 TDHS employees are now training to help guide customers receiving benefits through department programs through the process to apply for Tennessee Reconnect.


“The Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect both provide an incredible foundation as we continue to build a thriving Tennessee,” said TDHS Commissioner Danielle W. Barnes. “A community college degree or technical certificate opens many doors and it is essential that we connect our families with this important resource.”


Families First is Tennessee’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.  It helps more than 51,000 participants in Tennessee reach self-sufficiency by providing temporary support for transportation, child care assistance, education, job training, employment activities and other support services.


SNAP provides nutritional assistance benefits to nearly a million people in Tennessee. The program helps supplement the monthly food budgets of families with low-income to buy the food they need, maintain good health and allow them to use more of their income for essential living expenses.