With college enrollment down and most jobs today requiring a college degree or career credential, it is critical that we increase the number of Tennesseans who complete education beyond high school. Beyond the need to ensure career and life success for Tennesseans, increasing college completion rates is also critical to building a strong economic base for business and communities.

SCORE’s Data Playbook — Community-Based College Success Programs: A Playbook For Data-Driven Student Support — spotlights programs across Tennessee that are increasing enrollment in and completion of college and career training. We’re highlighting these programs on SCORE Blog so that you can learn from their experience and jump-start your own work in this area. Today, we look at Knox Promise.

Launched in August 2019 through a partnership between The Haslam Family Foundation, tnAchieves, and SCORE, Knox Promise provides Knox County Tennessee Promise students with additional coaching and financial support to help them persist in earning a college credential or degree. In addition to receiving one-on-one support from a tnAchieves coach, Knox Promise students are eligible for need-based microgrants to cover nontuition expenses during their first five semesters of college.

In addition to removing barriers to postsecondary success, Knox Promise aims to ensure that students are equipped with the skills and experiences needed to thrive in the workforce after graduation.


Knox Promise employs coaches who each carry a caseload of about 215 students. Coaches connect weekly with students via phone, text message, and email and provide additional coaching and support through in-person and virtual meetings. Coaches log all communication with students in tnAchieves’ Salesforce database.


Knox Promise uses a microgrant fund to provide students with textbook stipends and completion grants that address nontuition related expenses. Students who graduate from a Knox County high school and remain eligible for Tennessee Promise receive a $250 stipend per semester for up to five semesters. Students with an annual household income of $75,000 or less also are eligible to receive a completion grant of up to $1,500 per semester for up to five semesters. Completion grants can be used to cover a range of nontuition expenses: food, housing, transportation, childcare, medical care, books and supplies not covered by the book stipend, and class-specific fees.

Often, expenses may arise unexpectedly and prevent a student from attending class or completing assignments. Unforeseen financial hardship can cause significant stress or otherwise lead directly to a student dropping out of school. Most recently, when college campuses across the state pivoted to virtual instruction because of COVID-19, these completion grants were critical to providing students with the laptops needed for online coursework.


A recent evaluation of the first year of Knox Promise conducted by the University of Tennessee Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research indicates the program is having a positive impact on first-year persistence rates. Overall, 81.1 percent of Knox Promise students who began college in the Fall 2019 persisted through Spring 2020. This compares to a statewide first-year retention rate of 53 percent for first-time full-time freshmen at community colleges. Moreover, the same evaluation found students who received completion grants had first-year persistence rates of at least 95 percent.

The Data Playbook aims to help communities learn from existing community programs and jump-start their own work using data to support student success. Download the Playbook today and start forming your own ideas on how to support students in your community. 

Download the report

Dr. Richard Bailey is SCORE’s director of strategic practice and data.SCORE’s communications manager, Diane Hughes, contributed to this post.