Tennessee STRONG Requirements
To be eligible, a person must:
- Be admitted to and enroll in an eligible institution—any Tennessee public community college, public university, or private college or university, all of which must be regionally accredited. Individuals attending private institutions will be reimbursed for the average cost at a public institution.
- Maintain a minimum grade point average of 2.0. An individual who loses eligibility for failing to maintain a 2.0 grade point average may regain eligibility upon maintaining a 2.0 grade point average in a subsequent semester.
- Apply for and use federal tuition assistance.
- Be in good standing with the Tennessee National Guard and currently serving.
- Apply for the reimbursement within 90 days of course completion.
- As a last-dollar reimbursement, the amount of state tuition reimbursement is offset by any other funds received. The tuition reimbursement will be made to the educational institution on behalf of an eligible member for no more than 120 credit hours or eight semesters toward a first-time bachelor’s degree.
- A Guardsmen must not have missed a ship date, successfully completed basic military training prior to course start date and be in good standing and currently active in the Tennessee National Guard.
Andrew Atwood considered going for an MBA after finishing his bachelor’s degree at UTC, but money was a stumbling block.
“I had thought about an MBA but thought it would be more likely that I’d have to work for a while” before enrolling, says Atwood, a sophomore in accounting.
Then he heard about Tennessee STRONG (Support, Training, and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsmen).
The act, signed into law in May 2017 by Gov. Bill Haslam, pays the tuition for Tennessee National Guard members seeking their first bachelor’s degree. As a member of the Air National Guard, Atwood was eligible to apply. He did and was accepted. With his tuition paid for the rest of his time at UTC, an MBA is much closer to reality.
“It would be a lot harder to look at master’s school if you’re already sitting on the debt from your bachelor’s degree,” he says. “So this has given me hopes to go a little further than I anticipated, kind of helped broaden my goals a little bit, maybe reach out and get a little more out of my education.”
The Tennessee STRONG Act is part of “Drive to 55,” a program with the goal that 55 percent of Tennesseans have a degree or certificate by 2025.
While Tennessee STRONG is a great opportunity for those in the National Guard, not very many UTC students even know it exists. But that’s changing. Ten students signed up for Fall semester 2017, and 14 are using it in Spring 2018, says Squoia Holmes, assistant registrar in the Military and Veterans’ Affairs Records Office.
Being such a new program, “it may take some time for students to become aware of this opportunity and fully understand the eligibility requirements,” Holmes says.
Jordan Gnann-Bucher, a senior in history, says he heard about Tennessee STRONG from a recruiter for the Tennessee Air National Guard in Chattanooga, where he works full-time as an assistant in the Human Resources Office.
As the 27-year-old father of a 4-year-old and a 2-month-old, knowing that he’ll be graduating with no student loan debt “is just one less thing you have to worry about,” he says.
In Fall semester, Caleb Northam started his freshman year at UTC. Majoring in mechanical engineering, he joined the Army National Guard while in his hometown of Dyersburg, Tenn. Although he’d heard about Tennessee STRONG before coming here, he wasn’t sure how to do apply for it, so he approached the Military and Veterans’ Affairs Records Office, which he says has “helped me a lot.”
“They helped me fill out the application, Northam says. “They gave me a good step-by-step process of what I needed to do.”
He says he could pay for school without the Tennessee STRONG aid but, like Gnann-Bucher, it lifts a huge weight off his shoulders to know that won’t be necessary.
“It’s a definite boost for my wanting to go to school.”