Massachusetts May Make Nursing School Free at Community Colleges

The state Senate proposed expanding the governor's free community college plan.
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Updated on July 13, 2023
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  • Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey proposed a free community college plan in March as part of her budget proposal.
  • The Massachusetts Senate approved an expanded plan that would include nursing students enrolled in community college.
  • The Senate's budget proposal now goes to the state House of Representatives.

Massachusetts may become the first state to offer free nursing school to its residents.

The Massachusetts state Senate approved a budget proposal May 25 that would set aside $20 million to make nursing programs at community colleges free for those who don't already have a college degree. This proposal does not include any restrictions on age and says the scholarship applies to "students from the commonwealth."

The measure now goes to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, where its prospects are uncertain.

The proposal would provide a so-called "last-dollar" scholarship, meaning state funds would cover all of a student's tuition and fees after a student exhausts all other federal and state financial aid.

The proposal builds on the budget Gov. Maura Healey put forth in early 2023. Her budget seeks to make community college free for Massachusetts residents 25 years old and older through a program dubbed MassReconnect.

The Senate's budget package earmarked $20 million for MassReconnect, in addition to the $20 million it set aside for nursing education specifically. It designates another $15 million for "capacity-building efforts" so that schools may accommodate the free college proposal.

The Senate's budget now faces a reconciliation process in the House, whereby lawmakers negotiate separate packages into a single set of approved proposals. Once both chambers agree on an identical budget, it will head to Healey's desk for her to sign or veto.

Democrats, who have historically been more receptive to funding such measures than their Republican counterparts, control the state Senate, House, and governor's office.

Healey's administration made MassReconnect a pillar of its budget proposal in March.

"With help paying for tuition, course funding, books and supplies, and career wrap-around support services, over 1.8 million Massachusetts residents would have the financial flexibility they need to continue their education," Massachusetts Secretary of Labor Lauren Jones said on March 1.

Healey has yet to say whether she supports the inclusion of free nursing programs at community colleges.

The Senate's expansion to include nursing programs comes amid a nursing shortage across many areas of the U.S.

According to an analysis from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the supply of registered nurses (RN) dropped by more than 100,000 from 2020-2021. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 203,200 openings for RNs each year, on average, through 2031.

Other states have attempted to address the shortage. The Minnesota Legislature recently passed the Nurse and Patient Safety Act, which creates a student loan debt forgiveness program for nurses who work in rural or underserved urban areas.