Minnesota May Make College Free for Many Residents

The tuition-free program, if approved, would apply to households making less than $120,000 per year.
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  • State Sen. Omar Fateh is the chief author of a sweeping tuition-free college bill that, if approved, would go into effect in 2024.
  • This program would become one of the most comprehensive free college programs in the U.S., if passed.
  • Democrats now hold the state Senate, House, and governorship in Minnesota.

Most Minnesota residents could soon qualify for tuition-free college thanks to a recently introduced bill.

Minnesota state Sen. Omar Fateh and state Rep. Mohamud Noor introduced the Minnesota Commitment to Higher Education Act in their respective chambers. At its core, the bill would provide scholarships to cover tuition and fees for Minnesota residents attending a public or tribal college or university in the state.

The only requirements are that each student must:

  • Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the state aid application
  • Have an adjusted gross household income below $120,000
  • Not have earned a bachelor's degree yet
  • Be enrolled for at least one credit
  • Meet academic progress requirements

According to the bill's text, this would act as a last-dollar scholarship. That means it would cover any remaining tuition and fees after all grants and other scholarships are applied, except for federal Pell Grants.

Students can have up to 60 credits covered by this scholarship if they pursue a certificate or associate degree. The scholarship covers up to 120 credits for those studying for a bachelor's degree.

If approved, the bill goes into effect July 1, 2024.

A fiscal note attached to the Minnesota Commitment to Higher Education Act estimates that the scholarship program will cost the state approximately $315 million yearly.

It estimates 58,485 students will take advantage of the scholarship in fiscal year 2025.

Democrats now control both chambers and the governorship in Minnesota after the 2022 election, giving the bill a clearer path to becoming law.

This legislative makeup is one of the reasons Morley Winograd, current chairman and former CEO of the Campaign for Free College Tuition, told BestColleges late last year that he sees Minnesota as one of the four states most likely to make a move toward free college in 2023.

The state's legislative session started Jan. 3 and runs until May 22.

The Minnesota Commitment to Higher Education Act would create one of the country's most overarching free college programs. While many states have begun to offer free community college in recent years, this bill extends tuition-free college to all public institutions, not just two-year colleges.

New Mexico's scholarship program, enacted in early 2022, closely resembles the Minnesota proposal.

New Mexico's program contributed to enrollment gains. The state announced that enrollment across all associate, bachelor's, and certificate programs at public institutions increased by 4.1% in fall 2022. That stands in contrast to the enrollment declines seen in many states across the country.