MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The Minnesota Senate unanimously passed the biennial higher education budget Monday.

Senate officials say the bill focuses on student-centered issues as it would implement stable funding for public institutions, increase investments into direct student aid, and increase grant funding for low and middle-income families by $26 million.

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The bill would create the “Fostering Independence Grant” which would allow children in the foster care system as teenagers to go to college for free.

Co-author of the bill Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said he feels the Senate fulfilled their promise to Minnesota students.

“We pledged from the beginning of session to deliver a higher education budget that is student-centered and makes college more affordable,” said Tomassoni. “After months of hard work, I can say we accomplished our goal.”

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Possibly the most important aspect of the bill is the new tuition increase cap of 3.5% per year which would result in an additional $5.4 million in direct support for small Minnesota campuses. The bill will also require four additional colleges to implement zero-cost textbook degrees and increase funding for the workforce development scholarship program.

“Students are at the center of this higher education budget,” Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R– East Gull Lake, said. “Whether they are pursuing a four-year degree on campus or online with zero-cost textbooks, or an education in the trades, we want to ensure that our students receive a great education that kicks off their career and prepares them for Minnesota’s future workforce needs.”

Beyond academics, the bill will include plans to provide help for students struggling with their mental health, small emergencies, and housing and food insecurity. It would also expand the Hunger Free Campus designation to all public, private, and tribal colleges in Minnesota.

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The bill was passed by the House of Representatives Saturday and now awaits Gov. Tim Walz’s signature to be enacted into law.