Tennessee Again Has the Highest FAFSA Completion Rate in the Country

The Tennessee Promise scholarship program has catapulted the state to the top of the country for FAFSA completion and the amount of financial aid awarded per student.
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Bennett Leckrone
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Bennett Leckrone is a news writer for BestColleges. Before joining BestColleges, Leckrone reported on state politics with the nonprofit news outlet Maryland Matters as a Report for America fellow. He previously interned for The Chronicle of Higher Ed...
Published on April 14, 2023
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  • Tennessee saw an increase in the number of Tennessee Promise applicants filing the FAFSA by the program's March 1 deadline, with roughly 74% of students filing the federal financial aid application.
  • That represents an increase from the 72.8% figure for applicants in the class of 2022.
  • Tennessee leads the country in FAFSA completion rates, according to a release.
  • The last-dollar Tennessee Promise scholarship program covers tuition and fees at community and technical colleges and saw a record number of applicants last year.

Tennessee's free community college scholarship program continues to spur students to higher education, new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) data shows.

More than 74% of applicants to the Tennessee Promise program in the class of 2023 filed the FAFSA by the program's March 1 deadline, according to the state's Higher Education Commission.

That completion rate represents an increase from 72.8% for the class of 2022, and it maintains Tennessee's top spot for the highest FAFSA completion rate in the country.

More than 64,000 high school seniors applied to the statewide mentoring and scholarship program last year, BestColleges previously reported, setting a program record.

That last-dollar scholarship, which covers tuition and fees not already covered by other financial aid, applies to the state's 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology, and for associate degrees at three four-year institutions.

Tennessee has funded more than $181 million in scholarships to more than 123,000 students since the program began, according to its Higher Education Commission.

A sizable percentage of students in the program's first four cohorts went on to earn degrees: 47.9% of the program's first cohort, 45.3% of the program's second cohort, 40.8% of the program's third cohort, and 35.1% of the program's fourth cohort. And officials expect those figures to increase over time.

The Tennessee Promise scholarship also applies at other eligible public or private four-year institutions offering an associate degree, according to the program's website, but the award is "capped at the average cost of tuition and mandatory fees" for community colleges in those cases.

The commission also notes that Tennessee leads the country in the amount of financial aid awarded per student.

The FAFSA filing rate increase, alongside the record number of Tennessee Promise applicants, is a bright spot for the state after recent college enrollment declines. An annual report on college enrollment from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission last year found that the number of high school graduates who immediately enrolled in college declined in 2021.

The state has seen a continual decline in the number of high school graduates immediately enrolling in higher education after the COVID-19 pandemic. The rate of students immediately enrolling in college after high school was above 60% from 2015-2019, but fell during the pandemic.

BestColleges previously reported that state officials called the college-going-rate declines a "call to action."