DFL trims plan for free two-year college

Auto body area
An instructor walked through the auto body area at Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount on March 8, 2012.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News 2012

Democrats in the Minnesota Senate have revised a plan to provide free education to students at the state's two-year community and technical colleges.

After criticism that the initial cost was too high, Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, today announced a revised proposal to make community and technical colleges free for selected Minnesota students.

Under Stumpf's modified bill, about 3,500 students could attend college without paying tuition for two years, at a cost to taxpayers of nearly $31 million. That's a far cry from the 25,000 students that initial estimates indicated could qualify.

The revised bill appears far less expensive than the $100 million to $150 million price tag Stumpf estimated when he introduced the bill in January.

At the time, some higher education leaders called his proposal too expensive, and one that focused too many resources on two-year colleges at the expense of universities and private colleges. Gov. Mark Dayton did not include it in the two-year budget in January.

But today Stumpf called the proposal a good way to enable more students to obtain the education they need for jobs in the state's industries.

State Sen. LeRoy Stumpf
State Sen. LeRoy Stumpf
Tim Pugmire | MPR News 2014

"When you look at the actual cost of trying to provide skilled workers into the economy of Minnesota, that's a very reasonable cost," he said.

Students would have to study one of more than 800 selected programs. Most appear to be vocational or technical in nature, such as agribusiness, health care and roofing. But subjects such as advertising, library science and art-teacher education are also included.

The Senate higher education committee is expected to discuss the bill this afternoon.

Stumpf offered more details on his plan than he did in January.

Qualifying students' families could make no more than $125,000 a year. Students would have to maintain a minimum college GPA of 2.5, and take at least 30 credits of courses a year.

More than $2.5 million of the plan's cost would go toward paying mentors who would help guide participating students through the first two years of college.

Students would have to enroll immediately following high school graduation, a requirement similar to one the plan had in January.

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