2015 will be remembered as the year that began the Debt-Free Community College movement. In the past year, 14 states have introduced legislation to support debt-free community college. Although only three have passed to date, this surge in legislative activity signals an increasing recognition of the value of community and technical colleges.
Oregon & Tennessee Promises
Oregon and Tennessee are leading the debt-free community college charge in the United States. Both programs, Oregon Promise and Tennessee Promise respectively, provide last dollar grants to those that qualify for the program. Last dollar grants make up the cost difference between tuition price and any aid received from the federal government. Unique to the Tennessee Promise program is an intensive mentoring component. Each recipient of the Tennessee Promise scholarship is assigned a mentor to assist students with the college selection and education process. In 2015, more than 9,000 people in Tennessee volunteered to be part of the program. Mentoring is key to community and technical college completion and data demonstrates that faculty mentorship increases student persistence and nearly doubles persistence among minority students.
Debt-free community college has also received support right here at home. Minnesota Senate Bill 5 created the College Occupational Scholarship Pilot Program. This pilot program, starting in 2016 and lasting through the 2017-18 school year, provides last dollar aid to students in high demand program areas. As part of the program, students will receive mentoring to develop student success plans. In order to be eligible, students must graduate from a Minnesota high school or receive their G.E.D. immediately prior to enrolling. Details for how the funds will be distributed are under development by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. Approximately 1,200 students are expected to benefit from this pilot program.
Although only three states have passed debt-free community college legislation this year, many state legislatures have considered such bills. The National Conference of State Legislatures, the leading resource on state legislative action, details the nuances of these bills. Although these legislative initiatives differ in their approach to debt-free community college, all underscore the enormous value that community and technical colleges provide to their communities and recognize the importance of affordability to persistence and college completion.
What You Can Do
MSCSA is dedicated to making community and technical colleges accessible and affordable for all Minnesotans. If you are passionate about ensuring access and success for all Minnesotans, check out our Debt-Free Community College toolkit. Inside you’ll find all that you need to organize on your campus to help build a movement in Minnesota to increase investment in our community and technical colleges.
Find out more at www.debtfree.mn