This week, students at UT and across the state are moving back to college, whether for the first time as freshmen or returning as upperclassmen. It’s a huge transition, and for most of us, the biggest financial decision we’ve faced so far. 

That’s why the biggest factor that I had to take into account when choosing where to go to college was tuition and financial aid. Luckily, like thousands of students across the state, I received financial support through the HOPE Scholarship.

In Tennessee, thanks to the HOPE Scholarship, achieving a two-year or four-year degree is more accessible. In 2003, former Governor Phil Bredesen signed the HOPE scholarship into law, which was awarded to Tennessee residents with a certain GPA and ACT/SAT score who chose to go to colleges in-state. 

During its first year, over 35,000 students were awarded $105 million, and since then the number has grown to over 45,000 students over $130 million.

In order for our state to grow and prosper it is important to provide people with the opportunity to positively impact our communities and help it grow as well. By getting a four-year or two-year degree, students are able to then graduate with the tools needed to provide for our own future and give back to the community later on. 

A degree opens us up to higher wages, more benefits, and a wider field of opportunity. Yet while a degree often is necessary for these benefits, the price tag is more expensive than ever, and presents a huge barrier to entry. 

For the past 15 years, the HOPE scholarship has used the Lottery system to lower that barrier to entry and level the playing field for all Tennesseans. And it was no small task. 

Gov. Bredesen had to work across the aisle to get the HOPE scholarship passed through the state legislator. Sometimes it feels as though policy decisions are made with only the short-term in mind, but Gov. Bredesen’s vision has led to 15 years of affordable in-state tuition. 

This fall, we have the chance to send Bredesen to the U.S. Senate, where he will continue to combat skyrocketing college costs. I hope other Vols will join me in voting for Phil Bredesen for U.S. Senate on Nov. 6th.

Hannah James can be reached at

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