Free College? Tell Me More!

You probably have heard a lot about reducing student loan debt and even free college from politicians these days, but there is a new pilot program from MnSCU that is more than just talk.  The MnSCU Two-Year Occupational Grant Pilot Program offers eligible students funding to cover any remaining tuition and fees after applying the awarded Federal Pell Grants and MN State Grants.  This grant can be used for up to 72 credits for qualifying certificate, diploma, AS or AAS programs.  There isn’t an application process other than completing the FAFSA and enrolling for Fall 2016 in one of your colleges qualifying programs.

Here’s how to qualify:

  • Complete high school during the 2015-2016 school year (that’s you, current seniors)
  • Complete a 2016-17 FAFSA (that’s the one you should be doing right now)
  • Begin enrollment in Fall 2016 for qualifying programs
  • Meet the definition of a MN resident for state financial aid programs
  • Parent adjusted gross income of $90,000 or less for the 2015 tax year
  • Participate in required free mentoring services throughout your academic program (similar to TRIO SSS services)
  • Have tuition and fees not fully covered by Pell and State Grants during fall 2016

Receiving funding for the second year of the grant is not automatic.  You will have to accomplish a few things in order to get it renewed:

  • Submit a 2017-18 FAFSA
  • Complete at least 30 credits during the 2016-17 school year
  • Participate in the required free mentoring services during the 2016-17 school year
  • Maintain a 2.5 GPA for the 2016-17 school year and for each term of the 2017-18 school year
  • Be on track to complete your program at the end of the 2017-18 school year

This is a first come, first serve program based on when you completed your FAFSA, so if you (or your parents) are dragging your feet to get the FAFSA 100% completed, you had better get movin’!  Also, don’t ignore any notifications from the financial aid office about verification.  I highly recommend contacting financial aid at the school you are considering for more information on this program and on your financial aid status.

One more thing to note:  many of the qualifying programs are not designed for transferring to a four-year school, so some of the program specific classes may not transfer.  It is in your best interest to speak with advising/transfer/admissions staff at the two-year school you are interested in attending and the four-year school you are interested in transferring to in order to find out which courses will and will not count toward a four-year degree.

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