JACKSON -- A plan to pay community college tuition for recent Mississippi high school graduates who are not covered by other financial aid is advancing.
Representatives passed House Bill 424 Tuesday by a vote of 115-4. It now goes to the Senate for more debate.
The bill would set up a two-year pilot program at all of Mississippi's 15 community colleges. Local governments and private donors are already running such plans in 20 of Mississippi's 82 counties.
Officials estimate it would cost less than $4.5 million a year more to pay outstanding tuition for the system's 75,000 students.
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 using privately donated money and has since spread.
Federal Pell Grants typically cover tuition and books, at the state's 15 community colleges for the poorest students. The maximum Federal Pell Grant award this year is $5,645. Any student whose family has an income of $24,000 or less qualifies for that full amount.
Any student who doesn't receive a Pell Grant is eligible for the state's Mississippi Tuition Assistance Grant, which contributes $500 a year. Plus, most institutions offer other scholarships.
The Community College Board said 6,852 students would have been eligible for assistance in fall 2012. The cost estimate of $4.5 million was built on maintaining a 2.0 GPA, so a requirement of 2.5 is likely to cut the price.
Because Pell Grants pay for the poorest students, the program is likely to benefit the more affluent.