Students who don't take the traditional route to college also should be eligible for help from the lottery-funded scholarship program, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen said.
Bredesen said it is common for a student to take a year or two off from college before returning and finishing. He also said people returning to school later in life should have a chance at the scholarships.
"My fundamental belief of this country is that it is a 'second chance' country and you hate to lose somebody because they came to school and had a tough freshman year, it was a huge cultural change and suddenly they're out their lottery scholarship," he said after talking to higher education officials Tuesday. "There has to be some way of recognizing the different paths through the system."
Bredesen said he wasn't proposing something specific for this legislative session but he asked leaders at the University of Tennessee, the Tennessee Board of Regents and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to look into the idea.
Charles Manning, head at the TBR, said one possibility would be to let returning students prove themselves by meeting certain academic requirements for a semester or two before being able to get the scholarship again.
The state's lottery-funded scholarship program, still in its first semester, is designed for students going straight from high school to college and graduating within four years. Such requirements leave out a large number of people who take longer to determine what they want to do, Bredesen said.
"The lottery scholarship has always struck me as something very oriented to people who grow up in families of a mother and father and 2.0 children, who live in a white picketed fence house in the suburbs," the governor said.
Right now, adult students can get a $1,250 annual grant to attend a Tennessee Technology Center, they can't get a HOPE Scholarship of $1,500 to $4,000 to enroll at an accredited community college or university in the state. Technology centers offer work force training but not college degrees.
Manning noted that enrollment of students 25 and older in Tennessee has declined about 15 percent since 1994.