DFL fails to explain tuition payment plan

Democratic Farmer-Labor gubernatorial candidates Ted Mondale, Mike Freeman and Hubert H. “Skip” Humphrey III have added tuition payment programs to their agendas in this year’s gubernatorial race. Patterned after Georgia’s Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally scholarship program, each proposal appears to offer something the other ones don’t. The HOPE program gives high school students graduating with at least a 3.0 grade point average free tuition for up to two years at all colleges and universities in Georgia. HOPE is a good program that greatly helps middle- and lower-income families, and chances are segments of each Minnesota candidate’s proposal could be combined once the primary election is over in September.
Mondale’s proposal, with a price tag of $91 million, funds students regardless of financial need and includes funding for private colleges. Freeman, undercutting Mondale to $88 million, proposes a $1,000 nonrefundable tax credit for middle- and lower- income families with an income cutoff at $100,000. Humphrey’s proposal bottoms out at $50 million and provides assistance for one year instead of two. DFL candidate Mark Dayton opposes all three of the candidates’ proposals, calling them indiscriminate spending of tax dollars. But he has not offered an alternative. Republican candidates have not yet taken a position on college tuition reimbursement. Until the Republican proposals are in, no one has a true picture of exactly what all three DFLer’s are presenting. The candidates should spell out more clearly what their plans are.
Many private colleges already require a high gpa for admission and consequently, these schools will have a disproportionate number of students receiving the state scholarship. Mondale does include private school awards but with a limit equal to the cost of tuition at the University. This is reasonable. Although Dayton offers no alternative, his criticism that high schools are and will be inconsistent in their grading systems is a valid one. It is quite possible that sympathetic teachers will award grades in the hope that a well-liked student will go on to college despite less than standard academic performance.
Freeman’s proposal would supplement existing financial aid programs to cover the first year of college costs for all Minnesota high school graduates attending any public post-secondary school in the state. This program seems to be the best, because it gives all students an incentive to improve their academic skills. The main problem with Humphrey’s tax credits is that they only reimburse money already spent on education. Persons who cannot pay for tuition up front cannot take advantage of the program.
If a similar tuition assistance program like the HOPE program is going to be a priority in the upcoming gubernatorial election, then at least one of the candidates needs to spell out their proposal more clearly and with more detail. Right now it seems each candidate is simply feeding off the success of Georgia’s program without offering anything new. Whoever wins the election takes the credit. Whatever variation of the tuition assistance plan becomes a reality, it will undoubtedly serve as a great incentive, subsidizing students who are willing to demonstrate initiative.