/After past attempts by lawmakers have fallen short, Hood looks to take tuition-free community college statewide

After past attempts by lawmakers have fallen short, Hood looks to take tuition-free community college statewide

The Democratic nominee for governor spoke out about his workforce training programs to increase Mississippi’s competitiveness. Hood revealed his plans during a news conference held at Itawamba Community College. He will be facing Lt. Governor. In the November general election, Tate Reeves will be his opponent. Reeves revealed his workforce training plan earlier in the summer. Hood, who is currently attorney general, would like to create a state-funded program to provide tuition-free community colleges to Mississippi’s high-school graduates. This program is a “last-dollar scholarship” which means it covers tuition only after students have received financial aid and scholarships. Students who are eligible would need to have a 2.5 GPA over four consecutive 15-hour semesters. The program, which would be funded from the general fund of the state, will cost $6 million to $8 million. Hood stated, “For six to eight millions dollars, it’s crazy not to do this.” Hood said, “That’s nothing. According to the Mississippi Community College Board, the average tuition cost for a semester is $1,516. Many of these schools participate in tuition assistance programs. The Meridian Community College Foundation in East Mississippi guarantees tuition for students who have graduated from Meridian or Lauderdale County public schools or homeschooled in Lauderdale County. Students who are eligible receive tuition-free four semesters at a community college as long as they have a 2.0 GPA and complete at least 15 hours per semester. The foundation covers the tuition costs of students who are not eligible for financial aid or scholarships. Students from Calhoun, Chickasaw and Itawamba counties can get their tuition paid through the county tuition grant program at Itawamba Community College. It is funded by the funds established by each county’s supervisors, according to Terry Bland, Itawamba’s financial aid director. Itawamba bills local foundations directly because the funds are managed by local foundations. Students must be a resident in one of these counties to receive the benefit. They also need to complete the ACT and apply for federal financial assistance. Bland stated that the grant covers any amount left over after students have received scholarships or other aid. The program was used by 362 students last year. Bland explained that Itawamba students must apply immediately after graduating high school and maintain a course load of 15 hours per semester. They also need to maintain a 2.0 GPA for the four subsequent semesters. Bland stated that while students who are not eligible for federal aid because their parents have too many assets but can’t write enough money to pay tuition, the advantage is that this will pay tuition. Many students can stay at home because we have Tupelo and Fulton campuses. It could dramatically reduce the cost.” Hood highlighted this point. Whether a student wants to get an associate degree or go on to a four year college, two years could be paid off in full. Hood stated that if you want your children to attend a four-year college, it is a lot easier to pay off. In 2015, Tennessee’s own program, Tennessee Promise was launched. Mississippi’s legislature has attempted to roll out this program on a state level before. In previous years, legislators filed several bills to make higher education tuition-free, with conditions that varied from bill to bill. The majority of the bills didn’t get far in the legislative process. Representative Jerry Turner (R-Baldwyn) may have been the most successful with a 2014 bill which would have granted tuition free to Mississippi students who have a 2.0 GPA and higher. It passed the House with three votes in favor, but it was defeated by the Senate. Turner stated that the existing tuition program in north Mississippi was cost-effective. Turner estimated that the bill would have cost the state between $7 million and $8 million if it had been passed. Turner stated that “we need an educated workforce.” Turner stated that we need an educated workforce. Whitfield stated that CREATE had advocated for a state-wide program many years ago as it would have provided Mississippi with a chance to make a statement on the importance of community colleges and college. “We wanted people who would otherwise not go to college to have the opportunity to learn skills.” Hood answered a question about whether it would be possible for the Legislature to pass such a bill if he were elected governor. He said that he was confident that he could work with anyone who is present at the Capitol in January. Hood’s opponent in the gubernatorial race will not be the lieutenant governor. However, many of those who voted for Turner’s bills last year and 2014 are either unopposed or running for reelection. Hood stated that he believes there will be more conservative legislators, but that even Republicans from Republican counties will be more educated. “If someone gets there and gives some leadership, I believe the speaker (Philip Gunn R-Clinton), will work with us.”