- Minnesota legislators will consider a program to make college tuition free for families earning less than $80,000 a year.
- State Sen. Omar Fateh and Rep. Gene Pelowski Jr., both Democrats, introduced the proposal, known as the North Star Promise program, in a wide-ranging higher education spending plan Monday night.
- If the program is approved, qualifying students would receive a scholarship to cover tuition and fees, minus their other grants and scholarships, beginning in the 2024-2025 academic year. Additional funds may be awarded to students if allocated money is left over.
President Joe Biden’s plan for free community college has not made headway. Now, most movement toward free higher education is happening at the state level amid support from U.S. Department of Education officials.
In Minnesota, the new proposal is the legislature’s latest attempt to start a free college program. The state’s office of higher education released research on the subject in 2018, estimating the cost of various proposals. Lawmakers have since tried to implement such a plan.
But before 2023, Democrats and Republicans had divided control of the Minnesota legislature. This year marks the first legislative session in almost a decade with a Democrat-controlled House and Senate.
Most free college programs focus on two-year institutions. But under the new proposed legislation, eligible students could attend any college within the Minnesota State University or the University of Minnesota systems, or one of the tribal colleges in the state.
In addition to meeting the family income requirement, students must also complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and be in good academic standing at their college.
The program would cost $117.2 million in its first year, fiscal 2025, after which it would cost $49.5 million annually, according to the bill.
Fatah and Pelowski chair the Senate and House higher education committees respectively. They cited workforce development needs and declining enrollment as motivation for the bill, according to the Star Tribune.