BELDEN • Attorney General Jim Hood unveiled a series of education policies at a campaign event at Itawamba Community College last week, with Hood highlighting plans to provide free community college tuition statewide for high school graduates.
Hood, who is the Democratic nominee for governor, is proposing a tuition assistance program for free community college. High school graduates would apply for the program through their community college’s financial aid office.
The program would function as a “last dollar scholarship,” meaning all other state and federal grants and scholarship would apply toward the students’ tuition before the state would step in to fill the remaining tuition gap.
If a student does not qualify for any other scholarships, grants or financial assistance, Hood’s proposal would cover the full tuition cost. In order to be eligible for the assistance program, students must be enrolled in 15 hours of classes for four consecutive semesters and maintain a 2.5 GPA.
Currently, eight counties in Northeast Mississippi offer this exact program, according to a press release from Hood’s campaign. Between 2008 and 2018, the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) in Northeast Mississippi costs those counties $4.2 million. Hood estimates it will cost $6 million to $6.5 million per year to enact the program statewide.
“It’s $6 million,” Hood said in a press conference at the Belden campus of ICC. “You want to put a couple million in there for years when there may be more students that enroll. But, that’s something we can do statewide. That’s an easy lift for us. That is not with the counties paying it like it is now. Because Lord knows counties have a hard enough burden as it is. But, just that opportunity for a student to go get job skills and not necessarily go to a four year college.”
Hood also wants to add an internship component to public education and workforce training. He says this will help students enter into the workforce easier.
“It’s so important for these students to be able to go out into the workforce,” Hood said. “And, it helps with the industry. It helps with the state government.”
Hood wants to see community colleges play a more prominent role in making sure the state has an educated workforce in order for citizens to have a quality job that pays well.
“In 1980 when I was in school, people could quit high school and go work in a body shop, and get a good job they could make a living at for the rest of their life,” Hood said. “Now, to work in a body shop to line up the sensors on vehicles now, you have to run about an $80,000 computer. And, if you haven’t had the exposure to these machines, there’s no way you can just get out and do that job now.”
Hood said at the press conference that the $8 million to fund the community college assistance program would come out of the state’s general fund.
Hood will face off against Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves in the general election on Nov. 5.