Two year tuition bill in Senate

Published 6:59 am Friday, February 14, 2014

A bill that would pay community college tuition for recent Mississippi high school students has advanced to the Senate.

House Bill 424 passed the House of Representatives with a 115-4 vote on Tuesday.

The bill would establish a pilot program to pay for community college students’ tuitions if they are a resident and meet certain criteria. According the bill, the student must be younger than 21 and must enroll within 12 months of their high school graduation. The student would be required to take a full-time course load of 15 credit hours and maintain a 2.5 GPA.

If the student met all the criteria, they would be eligible for four semesters of tuition.

Dr. William Lewis, president of Pearl River Community College, said that due to recent changes in federal student aid regulations, fewer students are qualifying for the Pell Grant Program.

“It has become more difficult for students to find the financial assistance they need to pursue higher education,” Lewis said. “If this bill becomes reality, it would enhance the number of Mississippians who have a higher education.”

Currently, PRCC has a tuition assistance program sponsored by Pearl River Valley Electric Power Association that is a result of the company’s “Round Up Program,” Lewis said.

He explained, with the customer’s permission, if a person had a monthly bill of $24.25 the electric company would add 75 cents to the bill and the 75 cents would go into the tuition assistance program fund.

Lewis said this is the first year the program has been put in place at the school and PRCC students received $79,000 in support, which amounts to about $900 a student.

“The return to the state would be a more educated workforce which is attractive to business and industry exploring opportunities to possibly locate in the state,” Lewis said about the benefits of the bill.

Officials estimate it would cost less than $4.5 million a year to pay for the system’s students based on student’s maintaining a 2.0 GPA. The requirement of maintaining a 2.5 GPA would further cut costs.

The Community College Board said based on the requirements stated in the bill, 6,852 students would have been eligible for the assistance for the fall 2012 semester.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.