By EMILY R. WEST
Standing in the new courtyard of Columbia State’s Williamson County campus, Gov. Bill Haslam had a simple message for the students in the crowd.
“We need you to complete your degree,” Gov. Haslam said, standing next to Columbia State’s president Janet Smith.
“The state needs you. I just left a meeting with a business, and every question was about the skill level of the work force. We need to be able to tell companies that are looking at Williamson County what we offer.”
Right now, Columbia State’s new Williamson campus has seen a rise in attendance for the first fall semester of its new location. The former campus sat off of Clyde Yates drive next to Franklin High School, and the old building could be an asset for Williamson County Schools.
“We thought we would start around 1,650,” Smith said. “But we are crowding 1,900 plus. We are excited about the numbers, and we appreciate the work you are doing with us.”
Haslam said the state now leads the nation in financial aid applications for college as a result of Tennessee Promise. The program aims to give free two-year college tuition for those graduating high school. Tennessee Promise acts as a piece of the governor’s existing plan “Drive to 55.”
Starting back in 2013, the governor announced he wanted to see at least 55 percent of Tennesseans with a degree or certification by 2025.
“All Tennesseans are getting this idea that college can be for everybody,” he said. “It’s free now matter what your family background is. Hopefully, it’s creating an opportunity for people and will make a life long difference.”
Haslam has iterated since its inception that Tennessee Promise is a method that doesn’t cost the taxpayers.
“The point I make all the time is this,” he said. “We live in an economy where the differences between those who have an education and those who don’t is becoming more and more extreme. So in Tennessee if we can address that opportunity, we can address some of the longer term issues that we face in the country.”