Minnesota lawmakers reach deal for free college tuition

Tuition at Minnesota’s public colleges would be free to residents whose families earn less than $80,000 annually, starting in the 2024-2025 academic year, under an agreement reached by legislative negotiators.

If the full House and Senate accept the language, which would be part of of a broader higher education budget bill, qualifying Minnesotans would no longer have to take on debt to get a public college degree, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported.

The “North Star Promise” free tuition program would cost about $117 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1, including startup costs. After that, it would cost about $49.5 million annually, according to the agreement reached Monday night.

“We’ve been seeing declining enrollment on all campuses,” said Senate Higher Education Committee Chair Omar Fateh, a Minneapolis Democrat. “If we don’t do something quick, we’re at risk of shutting down some campuses. … I see this bill as an enrollment driver.”

But Rep. Marion O’Neill, of Maple Lake, the only Republican on the conference committee that crafted the agreement, said she was “completely frozen out of all discussions.”

Qualifying students would have to attend a two- or four-year school in either the University of Minnesota or Minnesota State systems, or a tribal college. Private college tuition would not be covered.

Eligible students would have to be Minnesota residents with an adjusted gross family income below $80,000, be enrolled in at least one credit per semester, be in good academic standing, not have already earned a bachelor’s degree, and complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which determines their state and federal grant eligibility. The program would cover any tuition costs left after state and federal grants and institutional scholarships have been applied.

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