The Tennessee Student Aid Alliance is a coalition of organizations representing students, colleges and universities, and others who believe that all qualified students should be able to attend college regardless of their financial resources. The Tennessee Legislature has taken great strides in providing accessible postsecondary education opportunities through the Tennessee Student Assistance Award (TSAA). Without it, thousands of needy Tennessee students either could not attend college or would become heavily reliant on loans.
The Tennessee Student Aid Alliance proposal is a responsible plan to bolster the State commitment to student aid funding. There are two primary student access programs funded by State appropriations. The TSAA program, which is based upon a family's ability to pay, and the Ned McWherter Scholars Program, designed to keep the best and brightest high school graduates in Tennessee's higher education system. These programs are inter-linked and both need stable funding. The State's effort to help students finance a college education would be nearly eliminated if there were no TSAA Grants to provide a foundation for student aid packages. Without adequate funding of the Ned McWherter's Scholars Program, some of the brightest Tennessee high school graduates will cross state lines to attend college. Currently, the fiscal commitment of these programs represents less than 4% of the State higher education budget, yet is an important benefit enabling needy Tennesseans to attend the college that best fits their educational and career needs.
The Alliance also supports increased appropriations for the Tennessee Teaching Scholars Program. This program serves the critical role of increasing the number of qualified teachers serving in the state's public elementary and secondary schools. Students who satisfy a reasonable service requirement are not required to pay back the funds. The Tennessee Teaching Scholars program addresses the severe teacher shortage in both the urban and rural areas of the State. However, this program has not received the necessary increases to make it an effective tool in bolstering Tennessee's K-12 teacher pool. Consequently, the Alliance asks the General Assembly to place this program within their funding priorities.
The erosion of State student aid funding cannot be erased in a single funding cycle, but an important step forward can be taken each year. With a greater awareness of the benefits of student aid programs, we hope that the Legislature will build on previous steps to increase the State investment in student aid.