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Minnesota lawmakers approve free tuition for public colleges

New legislation in Minnesota could mean many students coming from low- and middle-income families could soon have free college tuition.
Minnesota lawmakers approve free tuition for public colleges
Posted at 8:26 AM, May 10, 2023

Lawmakers in Minnesota are proposing making public college education tuition-free for state residents coming from families making less than $80,000 annually. 

The proposal is contained within the biannual higher education bill, which passed the House Tuesday by a 69-63 margin. It now goes to the state’s senate. 

If approved, students would be required to meet certain conditions to receive funding. Those conditions include filling out a free application for federal student aid (FAFSA) and maintaining satisfactory academic progress. 

The state-funded scholarships would be good for up to 60 credit hours for those seeking an associate’s degree and 120 credit hours for those working toward a bachelor’s degree. Those who already hold a bachelor’s degree are not eligible for the scholarships. 

The cutoff for the assistance is sharp as no funding is provided to those making more than $80,000 annually. Those attending private schools would not be eligible. 

SEE MORE: FAFSA changes could make college out of reach for some families

Democrats in the Senate and House both came to the agreement in recent days. 

“As the chair of Higher Education in the Senate, tuition-free college was my number one priority. I’m proud to make it a reality for tens of thousands of working-class families, along with historic investment in student support,” said Minnesota State Sen. Omar Fateh. 

The proposal was met with support from LeadMN, which advocated for lawmakers to make college more affordable. 

“Free college works because the simple message of free college will motivate more students to go to college in ways that traditional scholarship programs could only dream of,” said LeadMN President John Runningen. “As a low-income student, this message works with me and so many of my peers who have not entered college.”

LeadMN noted that Rhode Island and Tennessee have similar programs for high schoolers coming out of college. In those states, students can obtain a two-year degree tuition-free. 

The Minnesota bill, however, lacked bipartisan support. Republican State Rep. Marion O'Neill told the Star Tribune that Republicans were left out of the process. 

Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, has not indicated whether he would sign the bill if it gets Senate approval. 

The cost of tuition at a public four-year university in 2020-21 in the U.S. averaged $9,400, up from $8,500 from a decade earlier, when adjusted for inflation.

Government data shows that in the last three decades, the cost of attending a public university, which is generally far more affordable than a private one, has doubled, when adjusted for inflation. In the last 40 years, the cost has tripled.

A student attending a public university from 2017-2021 would be expected to pay $38,093 in tuition and mandatory fees, in 2021 dollars. A person who attended a public university in 1977-81 would have been expected to pay $10,335 in 2021 dollars.

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