Minnesota ensures one more year of free college for former foster youth

Person on campus08
Student Nia Dyer, a former foster receiving the Fostering Independence Grant, works on a project at a study space inside Minnesota State University Moorhead on March 21.
Amy Felegy | MPR News

Minnesota is keeping its promise to fully pay for college for hundreds of former foster children — at least for the next year.

Gov. Tim Walz signed off on multiple bills on Friday, including a standalone bill and larger budget package that provide an additional $5 million in funding for the Fostering Independence Grant program, often called FIG.

The program needed more money due to an unexpected surge in interest from former fosters.

Seven people pose together
Foster Advocates staff pose on Feb. 8 in the state Capitol in St. Paul.
Courtesy of Joseph Heili

The current number of students receiving grants is 657. The $5 million will help the program serve an estimated 896 students for the next academic year if growth trends continue. Over 680 students have already been notified that they are eligible for the grants and that number could increase, according to the Office of Higher Education.

“With the signing of the higher education bill, OHE will be able to provide FIG to all eligible students while still being able to support any student who qualifies for the North Star Promise program. The only way to access these funds is through the FAFSA or Minnesota Dream Act application, so we are encouraging any Minnesotan considering college this fall to complete their financial aid application,” said Keith Hovis, the Office’s communications director. 

The Minnesota Dream Act application is the FAFSA equivalent for undocumented immigrants. Minnesota’s new North Star Promise program will provide free tuition to Minnesotans whose family income is under $80,000 starting this fall. 

The Office is expecting to be able to fund all eligible students next year. However, if demand surges unexpectedly, they may have to reduce award amounts for each student. If the program passes 900 students it will likely raise budget concerns, according to Adam Johnson, the Office’s financial aid program administrator.

A young man stands in an office
Fostering Independence Higher Education Grant recipient Travis Matthews in the Dean of Students office at Hamline University in St. Paul.
Ben Hovland | MPR News 2023

Ziigwan Frazer, who’s been advocating for the additional funding this session on behalf of nonprofit Foster Advocates, says she was relieved when Walz signed off on the $5 million.

“Having that signed is just to me means that our fosters’ lives get to remain intact and they get to continue on their educational journeys but also just they're not being sent back to survival mode and that feels really good to know,” said Frazer.

A woman speaks to a committee while sitting at a microphone.
Ziigwan Frazer testifies in support of increased funding for the Fostering Independence Grants in a House Higher Education Finance and Policy committee meeting on March 21 in the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul.
Nicole Ki | MPR News

She’s excited at the show of bipartisan support for the grants and is hopeful about finding a long-term funding solution next session. 

Sen. Jason Rarick, R-Pine City, a member of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said he plans to seek that next year.

“The plan will be next year in the Higher Ed Committee to, when we have to do the next biennium budget, we put the priority on to the foster grant program to try to make a more permanent solution. And I think part of it, we’ll probably have some better numbers from the North Star Promise to find out if some of the money that has been committed to that can, in fact, be reallocated permanently to the foster grant program,” said Rarick.

When it started in fall 2022, the Fostering Independence Grant program was the first of its kind in the nation to cover not only tuition but full cost of attendance of college for Minnesotans who have been in foster care.

Students can become eligible for the grants this upcoming academic year by completing their FAFSA or Dream Act application at any time, although sooner is better.

To be eligible for the upcoming grant cycle, an applicant must: 

  • have completed high school or completed the equivalent

  • be 26 or younger

  • have been in the Minnesota foster-care system at any point after turning 13

  • not be in default on a federal or state student loan

  • not owe more than 30 days of child support without a payment plan

  • not have been convicted of crimes involving fraud

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