New Program Provides Free College for Students in Technical School

(St. Paul, MN) – As high school students and their families make plans for attending college in the fall, one challenge may be finding ways to pay for it. A new grant program provides the perfect option. Thanks to legislation passed in 2015, qualifying students can attend college for free by studying the skills and trades, giving them the competitive advantages needed to succeed in a 21st century economy – while also addressing workforce shortages being felt across the state. Passed in the Senate Higher Education Omnibus Bill, this Two-Year Occupational Grant Pilot Program at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) gives qualifying students seeking a degree in high-skilled, high-demand areas, the opportunity to have much of their education paid for.

The bill’s sponsor, Senator LeRoy Stumpf (DFL-Plummer) cited Minnesota’s changing economy as a major reason for this common sense bill.

“Minnesota’s workforce needs are changing, and that became clearer to me during the bonding tours when I spoke with students at every MnSCU campus in a number of diverse, technical degree programs, many of whom had job offers before they even graduated. This program addresses the lack of skilled employees, while simultaneously giving students a more affordable alternative to the 4-year degree route,” said Sen. Stumpf.

Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, Senator Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka), praised this and other efforts to support students and workforce needs throughout the state.

160125 Bonoff_Occupational grant v4“Minnesota is facing an unprecedented demographic shift in our state, as older workers are retiring and as more and more jobs are requiring technical skills that many people don’t have. At the same time, many students are faced with obstacles when paying for college. This program is a great way to address all of these issues – helping students pay for their education while learning the skills our industries are looking for. As high school students consider their futures, I encourage them to learn more about this program and the options tech and community colleges offer,” said Sen. Bonoff.

This program is open for those enrolling for the 2016 fall semester in a qualifying certificate, Associate of Science (AS) or Associate of Applied Science (AA) programs at a MnSCU two-year college. Students should enroll soon, as grants are only available for academic terms during the two years immediately following high school graduation, completing an adult basic education program or passing all GED tests.

To qualify for a grant, students must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Graduate from a MN High school during the 2015-2016 academic year; or
  • Complete an Adult Basic Education program or pass a GED test as a Minnesota resident during the 2015-2016 academic year; or
  • Completing a 12 or 24-month Americorps program during the 2015-2016 academic year that started immediately after high school graduation during an earlier academic year;

In addition to meeting one of the above qualifications, students must also meet the following criteria:

  • Meet the definition ofMN resident used for state financial aid programs
  • Participate in free mentoring services throughout the student’s academic program
  • Have tuition and fee charges not fully covered by Pell and State Grants during fall semester 2016
  • Have an adjusted gross income (or wages for non-filers) of $90,000 or less for the 2015 tax year
    • For a student applying as a dependent student, parental income is used
    • For a student applying as an independent student (and spouse’s, if married) income is used

To apply for the initial grant for the 2016-2017 academic year, students must complete the 2016-2017 FAFSA which is available in January 2016. Due to limited funding, students are advised to apply as early as possible, since applicants will be ranked by application date.

More information about the program is available at OHE’s website here:

For more information about this or any legislation, please contact Sen. Terri Bonoff at (651) 296-4314 or by email at

Senator Terri Bonoff
Terri Bonoff represents District 44, which includes portions of Minnetonka, Plymouth and Woodland in Hennepin County in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. She chairs the Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee.

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Senator LeRoy Stumpf
LeRoy Stumpf represents District 1, which includes all or portions of Kittson, Marshall, Pennington, Polk, Red Lake and Roseau counties in the northwestern part of the state. He is the chair of the Capital Investment Committee.

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