- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 28, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Some higher education officials are questioning whether a plan by Minnesota Senate Democrats to make two-year colleges tuition-free would be worth the cost.

Minnesota Public Radio News (https://bit.ly/1wATMDH ) reports qualms include whether the proposal would bolster the state’s workforce and benefit low-income students trying to finish college.

Critics say many of those students already have grants that cover tuition and fees, and that the plan wouldn’t pay for other expenses. University of Minnesota professor David Weerts, who studies higher-education finance, says free tuition is “sort of a blunt policy instrument” that might take more investment than what’s actually needed.

The plan could cost $78 million to $106 million over the next two years depending on enrollment, according to MPR News. It would help about 30 percent of the projected 85,000 students in that period at two-year schools in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. Each student would receive an average of $1,550. About 42 percent of eligible Minnesota students already have tuition and fees covered by federal and state financial aid because they meet income guidelines.

Making tuition free also wouldn’t address other problems low-income students face that can make it hard to graduated, said Metropolitan State University professor Mark Misukanis.

“So they (might not) be successful once they get there,” said Misukanis, a former finance and research director at the state Office of Higher Education. “They may need to take remedial coursework. (It) might not get them to the award they’re looking for.”

But former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, now executive director of education advocacy group Generation Next, said free tuition can make it easier to deal with other burdens

The idea in Minnesota came from a similar Tennessee program that begins this fall, according to State Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer. The White House recently announced a similar nationwide proposal.

Funding for the free tuition plan was not included in the proposed budget from DFL Gov. Mark Dayton that was unveiled Tuesday.


Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, https://www.mprnews.org

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