SID SALTER: Mississippi exploring ‘free’ tuition

House Bill 424, known as the Mississippi Promise Community College Tuition Gap Pilot Program, died in committee on March 4 after being referred to the Senate Universities and Colleges Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee.

HB 424 would have made tuition free at all 15 Mississippi community colleges for students who graduated from high school within 12 months of enrolling in college. To qualify for free tuition under the language in the proposed bill, students also would have had to be first-time, full-time students. Once admitted students needed to maintain a 2.5 GPA while taking a minimum of 15 credit hours each semester to continue to have their tuition covered by the state.

The proposed law would have meant Mississippi would only pick up the tuition costs after all other federal, state and institutional aid sources have been tapped. As a result, lawmakers estimated the annual cost to be less than $4.5 million per year for the 75,000-student state community college system.

Authored by State Rep. Jerry R. Turner, R-Baldwyn, the bill cited the “cost of higher education” and the “growing financial burden of both out-of-pocket expenses and loans to be repaid …”

The Pew Center reported that California did away with tuition at its public colleges in 1960, but fiscal pressures forced the community colleges to charge “enrollment fees” since 1984-85. Tuition and fees at California’s public colleges still remain the lowest in the country.

Daily Journal
3/18/14