Grow your own | Free Tuition Program for Tennessee Teachers

Grow your own |  Free Tuition Program for Tennessee Teachers

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (WKRN) – For decades, teachers have been paid less than graduates in other professions, and recently that gap has grown wider than ever. But one program in Tennessee wants to eliminate at least one financial problem teachers are facing — student loans.

As a teenager, Malachi Johnson considered going to college for four years.

“I was still in high school. I still wasn’t sure, or which way I wanted to go,” Johnson said.

He was at JROTC and thought a military career sounded good. He could go to a state school and take out student loans. That was the plan, until her stepmother told her about a new show in Tennessee.

“When I heard about the program and saw that there would be no student debt, now I thought it was amazing. And it sounded too good to be true.”

It’s called Grow Your Own, and it’s an alternative to a four-year teaching degree and having to take out massive student loans; you get hands-on training in a real classroom during the day, while taking evening classes; you get paid for class time; and can finish in three years with a bachelor’s degree in education; and a big selling point: it’s free.

“I was relieved that I knew what I had to pay in the end.”

TN Grow your own program
Malachi Johnson participates in the TN Grow Your Own program (Courtesy of Malachi Johnson)

Dr. Prentice Chandler, dean of Austin Peay State University’s Eriksson College of Education, manages the faculty program in her district.

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“There’s a narrative that people don’t want to be teachers, and what we’ve found is that’s just not true. People want to be teachers. What we need to do as universities and school districts is find a way to make it cheaper and more accessible,” said Dr. Chandler.

When teacher pay is not keeping up with the times, dealing with student loan debt is another way to help teachers financially.

In Tennessee, according to the Economic Policy Institute, average teacher salaries are 23.8% lower than other college-educated professionals. That puts our state in the bottom half, 33rd in the country.

Tennessee is the first to create a program that eliminates teacher fees.

“I think this is a model that the nation should adopt.”

Johnson is an early graduate of Grow Your Own and sees his financial aid as life-changing for teachers.

“I feel like it would encourage a lot more people to fulfill their dream of being a teacher, if that’s what they want,” Johnson said.

Tennessee is the first state to have federal approval to make this program permanent.

Organizers said this opens the door for other states to replicate Grow Your Own and save their teachers from student loan debt.

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