Beginning in the 2024-25 academic year, legislative negotiators have reached a deal to make college tuition free for residents whose families make less than $80,000 a year.
The “North Star Promise” pertains strictly to Minnesota’s state institutions and is part of an overarching higher education budget bill. This agreement aims to bolster the state’s fledgling enrollment and labor workforce shortage, according to the Star Tribune of Minneapolis.
“This is the type of thing that we need to do to ensure that we have a skilled labor workforce that can get into that workforce and not have to incur debt,” said Gene Pelowski, chair of the House Higher Education Committee.
The program is estimated to cost $117 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1 and $49.5 million annually. The first year’s formidable budget includes its startup costs.
Eligible students must be enrolled in at least one credit per semester at a public community college or four-year university in either the University of Minnesota, Minnesota State system, or a state tribal college. They must also be in good academic standing and have completed a FAFSA form. Residents’ forms cannot display a dollar over $80,000 to be potentially granted the reward.
The “North Star Promise” would be a last-dollar scholarship program, meaning it would be enacted only after grants and scholarships from the school, state and federal budget have been applied. The University of Minnesota and Minnesota State systems would also see a significant state budget increase, incentivizing schools not to reduce their scholarship allotment and pushing the bulk onto the new program.
However, the language of the initiative must be agreed on by both the House and Senate, and it won’t be an easy battle. The only Republican on the conference committee that settled the “North Star Promise” was “completely frozen out of all discussions.”
Other states to track
While at least 14 states offer free tuition at the community college level, free 4-year programs are harder to come by.
The Excelsior Scholarship covers tuition for first-year students whose families make up to $125,000. They must be enrolled full-time in two- or four-year programs at SUNY and CUNY schools. However, a student must remain in New York for the same number of years after graduation as they were while earning the scholarship. If not, the scholarship converts to a loan.
The 21st Century Scholarship pays 100% of Indiana-resident student tuition at a state two- or four-year institution for up to four years, and it even partially covers tuition at a private university. Students must begin applying at either the 7th- or 8th-grade level and fulfill all Scholar Success Program requirements at every grade level.
The College Bound Scholarship Washington is unique in that besides providing a tuition-free scholarship to eligible students, it also covers some fees and a small book allowance. Students must apply for the College Bound scholarship before their 8th-grade year ends, meet Bound Pledge requirements in their senior year of high school, submit the FAFSA or state version (WASFA) and meet income requirements.