College for Free in Tennessee: How to Get Started


College for Free in Tennessee: How to Get Started

Did you know that Tennessee has a mission to equip 55% of Tennesseans with a college degree by 2025? This mission is called Drive to 55 and encompasses the Tennessee Promise and the Tennessee Reconnect programs. Though both programs share a common goal, they are very different. The Tennessee Promise is for recent high school graduates. To read more about Tennessee Promise, click here. The Tennessee Reconnect program is a program to help adults return to complete their degree. As a teacher, I am passionate about student success — both children and adults! We can be proud of Tennessee for so many things (Go Vols!), but this is by far one of the Volunteer State’s greatest accomplishments. Tennessee is the first state in the nation to offer two years of free community or technical college. All funding for these programs comes directly from the Tennessee state lottery – NOT tax dollars. You can watch a video about Tennessee Reconnect here.

My husband just graduated from Tennessee’s Reconnect Program with an associate’s degree. There were many nights he skipped out on family time to study for biology or take a math exam. Despite the learning curve, it was short-lived and we never shy away from productive struggle. Everything was online and he was able to take exams after the kids went to bed or write papers on the weekends. As far as graduation, he describes it as one of the proudest, most satisfying moments in his life.

And guess what? It was completely free.


Overall, the Tennessee Reconnect program is the perfect fit to a busy parent’s schedule. Busy moms, I see you. I know you don’t want to put your family in debt. I know childcare is expensive and there’s no way you could find a way to drive to class. But what if it were free? What if you could do it a little at a time and online? If those things are the only things holding you back, you should apply. After all, you are only one decision from completely changing the direction your life.

Here’s how to get started:

There are three different applications you’ll need to fill out.

First, you’ll need to apply to the college. 

Because my family is personally familiar with Pellissippi State Community College, I’ll be walking you through how to apply there; however, other community colleges also participate in the Tennessee Reconnect program. 

Step 1. Apply to Pellissippi as either a new student or a transfer student. If you’ve never been to college before, of course, you’ll be a new student. If you do have a few college courses under your belt, you’ll apply as a transfer student. They’ll need your transcripts to carry any course credits over toward your degree.

Step 2. You’ll need to full out a FAFSA application (federal student aid) for the year 2019-2020. This application needs to be completed by July 1 in order to get student aid for the fall semester.

Step 3. Fill out an application on Tennessee Reconnect’s website to apply for the program. 

Most classes can be taken online, but not all. Also, some courses can be taken entirely online with the exception of an exam at the end. It’s a great idea to look over the programs found here.

If you have questions, call the college and ask! Pellissippi was so helpful to us and was always ready to answer a question, no matter how big or small. Strong, solid advice from my husband’s advisor made a huge difference.  

Good luck!

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Autumn Longmire
I live in La Follette, TN with my husband Luke and our 3 children: Amelia, Lincoln, and Arthur. I'm a high school teacher in the public school system and I absolutely love what I do. I'm very passionate about education and the well-being of children all over the world. I like to write about my experiences as both a mother and a teacher. Balancing both is really tricky, and I'm still getting the hang of it. My husband, who I truly believe is the world's best father, is an auctioneer at his family business Longmire Realty & Auction Co. While we love our jobs, we value family time the most. We spend a lot of time outdoors and love to go camping all over the east coast.


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