SEVIERVILLE – After Kelly Lucey graduates from East Tennessee State University in May, she’ll be ready for a career in marketing.

Unlike many of her peers, however, the Sevier County High School 2014 graduate won’t be facing repayment of large student loans. That’s because Lucey is one of eight ETSU students graduating this spring with the help of scholarship money from Sevier County Partners in Progress.

Established in 2002, Sevier County Partners in Progress is an education program designed to allow more local students to complete a college degree. The idea was to keep the student cost as close to zero as possible. Now that the state provides Tennessee Promise scholarship funds that cover tuition at schools such as Walters State Community College, local leaders have reconfigured Partners in Progress.

The education program for Sevier County students provides tuition – but no the cost of books or miscellaneous fees – to those attending the Sevier County campus of ETSU, as well as funding for local high school students to take dual credit classes from Walters State. According to Janice Bettis, executive director of PIP, the nonprofit helped 155 Sevier County students at all five high schools pay for dual credit classes this spring. With dual credit, students can simultaneously earn high school and college credit by successfully completing one class.

Bettis and PIP’s board of directors are also pleased with some other numbers. “We have one student who graduated in December (with a PIP scholarship,” she said. “eight will graduate in May.” The upcoming graduates of ETSU will have completed a college degree without the large debts that many college students undertake – and without leaving Sevier County.

One of those students graduating in about a month is Lucey. She said on Tuesday that she hopes more students are aware of the opportunities that PIP provides for graduating, at a reduced cost, with a four-year degree while staying in Sevier County. “Most semesters, I paid under $200 per semester,” said Lucey of her studies at the Sevier County campus of ETSU. That allowed her to continue working at Food City, where she has been an employee for six years.

She said that she had been worried after graduating in 2014 from SCHS, knowing the higher expenses associated with other area colleges such as the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Even attending the main campus of ETSU in Johnson City was not an ideal alternative for Lucey, who didn’t wish to leave Sevier County or pay for housing.

“I was going to go to UT,” Lucey said. “They (ETSU) literally just opened when I went … The campus is a mile from Walters State.” ETSU opened its satellite campus in Sevierville in August 2016.

The upcoming college grad praised PIP and thanked those who have contributed to the organization.

“You’re literally giving it (money) to your neighbors,” Lucey said of supporting the PIP program. “It does go directly to your area. It’s an incredible program.”

Bettis is in the process of calling on area businesses to lay the groundwork for a month long fundraising campaign. She said that local mayors are going to proclaim July 2018 as Round Up for Education Month. Participating businesses will have that month to ask customers if they wish to “round up” when they pay their bill, with the extra change being collected for PIP scholarships. “It doesn’t put a strain on our businesses,” Bettis said of the fundraiser. She said that businesses will receive materials such as signs and badges they can use to notify their customers of the collection drive.

“We’re anticipating that we’re going to need around $250,000 a year,” said Bettis. Since 2002, PIP has assisted more than 1,500 local students and invested over $1 million in higher education.

“We are fully in support of Partners in Progress,” said Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters. “It helps our students continue their education, which will improve their lives and the lives of the people of Sevier County. The Round Up for Education program is a great way to donate money to help our students.”

The deadline to apply for Fall 2018 Partners in Progress scholarships is May 15. Businesses interested in participating in July’s Round Up for Education should contact Bettis at 865-428-2212 for information and materials. Information on Partners in Progress is available at or 865-428-2212.