by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Graduates of high schools in the Winona area will be able to have tuition costs covered at Minnesota State College Southeast (MSC Southeast) through the new College Opportunity Program.
The program will begin this fall as a three-year pilot. It is funded by businesses and individuals including Benchmark, Miller Ingenuity, RTP, The Watkins Company, Bob Kierlin and Mary Burrichter, Fastenal, Gundersen Health System and Winona Health.
To be eligible, students must be a resident of the Winona Area Public Schools district and graduate from Cotter High School, Hope Lutheran High School, Riverway Learning Community, the Winona Area Learning Center or Winona Senior High School. Students in the district who graduate from a homeschooling program are also eligible.
All certificate, diploma and degree programs at MSC Southeast are open to students who participate in the College Opportunity Program.
The program will cover tuition and fees and provide a stipend for books and supplies. Those graduating in 2023 or 2024 can attend for two years, or take up to 70 credits, at MSC Southeast with no out-of-pocket tuition costs and receive $500 a year, or up to $1,000 total, for books and other supplies. Those graduating in 2025 can attend for one year, or take up to 35 credits, and receive a $500 stipend.
To take part in the program, students need to apply for admission to the college. They also need to apply for financial aid with the FAFSA. Finally, they need to complete an online interest form, which will be available soon. More information is available at https://tinyurl.com/y2m7tjv8.
The program covers remaining tuition and fee costs following federal and state grants being applied. If a student does not qualify for any federal or state grants, according to the college, “Eligible students can receive up to 100% of their tuition and fees from the College Opportunity Program.”
Students may also apply for other scholarships and loans that go toward costs apart from tuition and fees.
School leaders say the program would help students access college education, regardless of financial situation.
“There’s a lot of talk about the value of college education in today’s world,” MSC Southeast President Marsha Danielson said. “Educational attainment translates into greater lifetime earnings. College creates a path to a stable family and community life, and college grads get more opportunities for jobs than non-graduates … however, there are many barriers to getting a college education. By far the greatest barrier to college access is financial.”
“The College Opportunity Program will be transformative for the students that it serves,” Danielson continued. “It’s an extraordinary commitment from Winona area investors, and it will make pursuing a college degree or credential affordable, especially for those not otherwise considering college or thinking that it’s beyond their financial reach.”
WAPS Superintendent Annette Freiheit said the program would help reduce barriers to students’ post-secondary success. “This program will reduce the financial burden, reduce equity gaps, instill the realization that every student can attend college, improve attention to students attending Winona area high schools, encourage our students to graduate from high school and continue to build a partnership between Winona area high schools and Minnesota State College Southeast,” she said.
Freiheit added, “The College Opportunity Program will offer great options for Winona area high school students to continue their education in pursuit of their passion and career. We are very thankful for … and appreciative of our investors who are making this opportunity available to the students in our community. Your generosity will help many students who dreamed of continuing their education, but for them and their family, finances are a barrier.”
Fastenal President and Chief Executive Officer Daniel Florness said the program reflects the company’s values of believing in people, extending trust to other people, creating opportunities for one another, challenging one another and developing empathy for others. “Our aspiration is [that] it goes beyond three years,” he said. “Our aspiration is that it goes beyond the five high schools in the Winona community and we find partners in neighboring communities that can help.” He continued, “It’s good for the area businesses. It’s also good for the community. It’s good for the medical side of the community.”
MSC Southeast will also work to help students enroll at the college and apply for financial aid, Danielson said. The college will work to support students while they are attending MSC Southeast through the program, she said. “We at Minnesota State College Southeast want every one of our students to succeed,” she said.
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