By Reginald Sturt

NASHVILLE, TN — Tennessee State University’s phenomenal leap onto the college scholarship landscape has revised chances for hundreds of Nashville-area high school students to seriously consider thinking of going to college without encountering tremendous debt.

After decades of declining to even consider college upon high school graduation, ‘dropping out’ or ‘stopping out’ while in college to help family debt and others, TSU has recast the challenge by waving some $9,000 in undergraduate tuition costs for 100 students entering TSU next fall for each of the four years required to graduate. Total value of the plan is more than $27 million.

“This is a game changer, not only for students and parents,” said Nashville-area minister the Rev. Barry Barlow, a TSU alum who works closely with the school system and TSU alumni. “It’s more than an ice breaker,” for families facing the college costs challenge. “It’s the ice breaker.”  He said, echoing other parents and Nashville education advocates.

Rev. Barlow, whose wife and family count 35 TSU degrees among their 28 brothers and sisters, is a TSU graduate who started college, dropped out for financial reasons then resumed his college pursuits after a 20-year stint in the military, says he knows first-hand the struggles financially strapped families face. “I ran into money problems that caused me to drop out,” said Rev. Barlow, the proud father of two female high school students.

The plan, which marks the first time in university history that the university is offering full tuition to students, is worth nearly $27 million dollars for its beneficiaries. Student loans and federal grants like the familiar Pell grants, will remain a prevalent option. A variety of new scholarships are emerging, with TSU being included among schools getting added funds to share with students.

“This is a great value, especially during the economic time we’re going through,” said Ashford Hughes, Sr., executive officer of diversity, equity and inclusion at the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) System, one of the state’s largest public-school systems with some 86,000 students. It has 25 high schools that had a graduation rate of 81.8 per cent in 2021, the last year reported. More than 4,200 students are set to graduate next spring.

Starting in the fall of 2023, TSU is offering nearly full tuition four-year scholarships to some 100 Nashvillians graduating from the city’s public high schools next year and ready to enter the university by fall of 2023, according to university officials. 

Details of the scholarship program, which enhance the chances to boost education in the ‘Athens of the South,’ are to be illuminated soon by newspaper, radio, television, civic and social club meetings, religious congregations, at grocery stores and shopping centers, by flyers, hand bill and via internet social media outlets, MNPS officials said.

The scholarships will be awarded in business, education, health sciences, engineering, and technology, MNPS officials said. Adding some scholarships may bring internships from other “partners” with TSU.

9‘Tennessee State is making a “cooperative investment in students in their own backyard,” said Hughes. 

For one college school year, that move would eliminate nearly more than $9,000 in college costs and be repeated for three more years until college graduation, assuming all requirements are met and kept.

Student loans have prevailed for decades, causing many students and families to go into heavy college debt that seems impossible to repay. Today, there are several efforts in Washington championed by President Biden and other progressives to forgive the unpaid federal loans which now total hundreds of millions of dollars.