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College may soon be free for 15,000 Minnesota students, here's how it works and who qualifies

The bill would essentially make college free for low-income students, with a few stipulations.

SAINT PAUL, Minn. — College may soon be tuition-free for around 15,000 Minnesota students.

It's part of a new bill that passed both the Minnesota House and Senate this week.

The bill would essentially make college free for low-income students, with a few stipulations.

-The family income must be less than $80,000 a year

-The funding only covers tuition

-Students must be Minnesota residents

-Students must attend a state university, 2-year college, or community college in Minnesota

-Families must fill out the federal FAFSA form for financial aid.

-The state funding will only cover tuition that isn’t already covered by grants, scholarships, or any other type of financial aid.

“We’re in a moment where we need to do something big and bold for our higher education system and I think this bill is it,” bill co-author DFL Senator Rob Kupec said.

Chris Wills with College Inside Track says about half of U.S. states have similar programs.

Some of those programs cover all state colleges and universities, and others only cover community colleges.

Wills programs in other states have also helped colleges and universities manage their enrollment.

"Their numbers have been declining by a fair amount over the last decade or more. So, I think absolutely they will be a beneficiary of this program,” Wills explains.

Senator Kupec says other states have seen significant growth after creating similar tuition programs.

“The California state system has seen really robust enrollment, so much so that they even built a brand new college campus,” Kupec says.

The bill has received some criticism from Republicans who argue the $80,000 limit would not include middle-class families who could also use this help.

Senator Kupec says a previous version of the bill had a limit of $120,000 but some lawmakers argued that the high limit made the cost of the bill too expensive for Minnesota taxpayers.

The free tuition program is expected to cost about $117 million in its first year.

After that, the program is expected to cost $49.5 million a year to maintain.

This new college tuition program is just one part of a much larger higher education bill.

Republican Senator Zach Duckworth, who sits on the Senate’s Higher Education Committee, released this statement regarding the Senate passing the higher education bill this week:

“Our focus should always be on students and their needs while providing them access to the maximum higher education opportunities possible. This bill will increase student debt, does not adequately address student safety, and will not solve the declining enrollment that Minnesota colleges and universities have been experiencing. Rather than help students by reducing tuition rates across the board at as many schools as possible, it will instead lead to higher tuition rates for thousands of students while limiting their options.”

The college tuition program still needs to be approved by Governor Tim Walz.

A staff member tells KARE-11 News the governor is expected to sign the bill sometime next week.

Authors of the bill say the state funding won’t be ready for this upcoming school year, but they are hoping to have the funding available for the Fall semester of 2024.

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