In an effort to help stem Minnesota’s workforce shortage and offer a new path for students to access quality higher education, the Senate is considering the College Tuition Relief Bill. The bill, S.F. 2, proposes to pay for two years at a MnSCU campus school if students meet several qualifications. The idea is based on a similar program in Tennessee (Tennessee Promise) which has proven highly popular. The bill was heard in the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee and was laid over, as amended, for possible inclusion in the Omnibus Finance Bill.
In order to qualify for the program, students must come from a family making less than $125,000 per year, enroll immediately following their high school graduation or attainment of a GED, maintain a college GPA of 2.5, and take a minimum of 30 credits per year. Additionally, students will be required to meet with on and off-campus mentors to develop both academic and career-focused success plans. Qualifying students must be enrolled in a vocational or technical degree program as defined by the federal Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which offers a wide range of degree options. The bill will cost $24.4 million for the FY16-17 biennium, and $30.5 million for each biennium going forward.
According to a 2011 study by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), the entire state is suffering from a moderate to severe workforce shortage, with Northwest Minnesota most affected at 54% of companies reporting a shortage. Georgetown University reports that by the year 2020, 74% of jobs in Minnesota will require some post-secondary education, creating a sense of urgency among companies looking to hire. Additionally, Minnesota ranks fifth in the nation for student debt loads; the average debt is approaching $31,000 per student. (S.F. 2)