Meridian Star

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January 25, 2014

Community colleges seek to pay tuition for all

JACKSON — JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — House members are considering a plan to pay community college tuition for high school graduates who are not covered by other financial aid for recent high school graduates.

For a 75,000-student system, paying everyone's tuition might sound like a budget buster, but officials say it will cost less than $4.5 million a year. That's because the money would only be offered after a student sought all other aid they're eligible for from the federal and state governments and their community college.

The House Universities and Colleges Committee passed House Bill 424 Wednesday, sending it to the Appropriations Committee. That committee must also act before the full House would take it up.

"It has the potential to be a great program," said Kell Smith, a spokesman for Mississippi's Community College Board.

Local governments and private donors are already running such plans for residents of 20 of Mississippi's 82 counties. Residents of six more counties will get the same offer next fall.

The proposed law would offer the money to any Mississippi resident who graduated from high school, whether public, private or home school. The student must be younger than 21 and must enroll within 12 months of graduation. The student would have to take a full-time slate of 15 credit hours and maintain a 2.5 GPA, or lose the scholarship. If they met those standards, students would be eligible for four semesters of free tuition.

The idea started at Meridian Community College, which began offering what it calls a tuition guarantee in fall 1996, using privately donated money. Haley Parker, who graduated from West Lauderdale High School, is one beneficiary. A sophomore, she plans to transfer to Mississippi State University in Starkville to major in microbiology.

Parker said her family had hoped to send her away to college for four years, but couldn't afford it.

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