Free College Grant Program Offered to Minnesota State Schools to Help Future Workforce – Session Daily

John Runnigan attends Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus Falls.

And like many academics, he went into debt for the opportunity to better himself through higher education at the expense of things like his own home or a more reliable vehicle.

In written testimony before the House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee, he wrote: ‘This bill would help so many traditional and non-traditional students to not worry about how to pay their upcoming bills or where of their next meal. This bill would allow many to graduate debt-free, graduate faster, and enter the workforce sooner.

Sponsored by Rep. Mohamud Noor (DFL-Mpls), HF4449, as amended, is “this bill.”

Held Wednesday for possible inclusion of the omnibus bill, it would create a free college scholarship program to cover tuition and remaining fees for students enrolled in state colleges subject to a sliding scale based on family income declared. There is no companion in the Senate.

“The best-educated workforce forces us to invest in college education for everyone. We can make this a reality by investing in the students who need it the most,” Noor said.

The plan provides for a student’s tuition and recognized fees to be covered after deducting other gift aid and scholarships received, such as a Pell grant, state grants, and tuition waivers.

“This is intended to provide free college to students earning less than $100,000 in gross family-adjusted income,” Noor said. “It also goes up to 50% for students whose adjusted family gross income is less than $125,000. … Many students have given up on higher education because of the crippling debt they carry. By giving them a helping hand, we can make this a reality and the best way to do that is to invest in them.

Rep, Ginny Klevorn (DFL-Plymouth) likes that the proposal broadens the prospects of prosperity for students. “This is a great opportunity to uplift middle class families and individuals. … This will ultimately help strengthen our state’s economy.

A tax memo has been requested for the bill that was introduced two days ago, but Nicole Whelan, a research analyst at the Office of Higher Education, estimates an annual cost of around $35 million.

“A big driver of that is that this bill is only available through our two-year colleges and the MinnState system, which significantly reduces costs,” she said.

At this point, Rep. Marion O’Neill (R-Maple Lake) questions the fairness of the bill when private school or University of Minnesota students couldn’t participate.

“These are different programs, but the obligation to MinnState is essential because many of our students in our districts across the state are typically enrolled at MinnState,” Noor said.

There would be no stipulations on scholarship recipients, such as regular attendance or continued satisfactory progress toward graduation.

“It’s commendable that we want to provide our workforce of the future,” said Rep. Tony Albright (R-Prior Lake). “While I can’t disagree with the state’s desire to promote availability to encourage students to attend, I think there’s quite a different equation in making sure they complete it and that they do so for purposes that in good faith generate sources of revenue that will benefit the state in the future.

Rep. Josh Heintzeman (R-Nisswa) reminded everyone that the state already has a “phenomenal opportunity” for free college through the Post-Secondary Enrollment Options Program that allows sophomores, juniors and seniors to take a course for high school and college credits.

Ryan H. Bowman