College students across Tennessee are relishing a break this week because of the holiday, and this year there are more of them, thanks in part to the state’s new Tennessee Promise program. The free-tuition program increased the number of first-time freshmen to more than 50,000 this year, an increase of about 10 percent in the first year of the program. Mike Krause, executive director of Tennessee Promise, said the program is helping to shift post-secondary education in the state in a way that nothing else could. “There was no way we could ever produce more college graduates in Tennessee if the same number of Tennesseans were going to college,” he said. “We needed to grow that number. This data indicates that we have, dramatically.” Tennessee Promise also came in under budget in its first year, costing $2 million less than what was allocated for the program. Krause said that’s largely because many students who applied were eligible to receive federal financial aid, reducing the demand on state funds. In addition to providing tuition, Tennessee Promise also provides a mentoring program to participants. While Tennessee Promise is having an immediate impact on the future of students and their families, Krause said, it ultimately will have a positive impact on the entire state. “For us, the starting point is the economic development effects that it has to have a more educated populace, because that leads to a better workforce. We can recruit different industry to the state,” he said. “It really is kind of an incredible set of second- and third-order benefits that emerge.” The Tennessee Promise scholarship provides two years of tuition-free education at any of the state’s 13 community colleges and 27 technical colleges. Any high school senior who graduates from an eligible Tennessee high school or completes a home school program can apply. The program is available to students regardless of socioeconomic status. More information is online at tennesseepromise.gov.