OLR Bill Analysis

sHB 5371

AN ACT ESTABLISHING THE FREE 2 START SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM.

SUMMARY

This bill requires the Board of Regents for Higher Education (BOR) to establish the Free 2 Start scholarship program for eligible community college students and appropriates $5 million to BOR from the General Fund for FY 19 to administer it. The program awards to eligible students for their first two academic years the greater of: (1) $500 or (2) tuition and fees after subtracting the student's financial aid (i.e., all scholarships, grants, and federal, state, and institutional aid received by the student, not including student loans).

To receive the award for both years of enrollment, the student must continue to meet the eligibility requirements established in the bill throughout the period. Students who receive an award must also participate in a volunteer-based mentorship and counseling program, as prescribed by BOR.

The bill also (1) establishes the process that BOR must use when allocating state-appropriated funds to the colleges for the
Free 2 Start scholarship and (2) requires the Planning Commission for Higher Education (see BACKGROUND) to design a plan for a similar scholarship covering tuition and fees for the final semesters of associate and bachelor
's degree programs offered by public, in-state colleges and universities.

By January 1, 2019, and annually thereafter, the bill requires BOR to report to the Higher Education and Appropriations committees on the Free 2 Start scholarship program.

EFFECTIVE DATE: July 1, 2018

ELIGIBLE STUDENTS

To be eligible for a Free 2 Start scholarship, a student must meet the following criteria:

1. have graduated from an in-state public or private high school within two years of enrolling in an in-state community college;

2. have enrolled as a full-time student for the first time in fall 2018 or any semester thereafter at a regional community-technical college and continue to be enrolled as a full-time student (i.e. carry at least 12 credit hours in a semester or at least 30 semester credit hours in an academic year);

3. make satisfactory academic progress while enrolled;

4. have completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or an institutionally-approved application;

5. have an expected family contribution (EFC), as computed from the student's FAFSA, of $5,300 or less;

6. have accepted all available financial aid; and

7. qualify as an in-state student under state law (see BACKGROUND).

INSTITUTIONAL ALLOCATION AND EXPENDITURE PROCESS

Under the bill, each community college must conduct a financial and academic audit each semester to determine (1) the number of students eligible for this scholarship and (2) the award amount for each of these students. (The bill does not specify when this audit must occur, but presumably it is at the beginning of the semester prior to tuition billing.) Additionally, each college must annually report the award data to BOR by September 1st and February 1st.

BOR must annually allocate the state appropriation for the Free 2 Start scholarship program to each regional community technical college, based on the sum of all awards made to eligible students enrolled during each semester. If the total amount of tuition and fees for eligible students exceeds the amount of the state annual appropriation in any year, then BOR must prioritize allocations using criteria that it has developed. (However, the total tuition and fees amount exceeds the awarded amount, which under the bill excludes student financial aid received.)

Each community college (1) must spend all the funds received under the scholarship program as direct financial assistance only for student tuition and fees and (2) cannot use the award to supplant any state or institutional aid that is otherwise available to eligible students.

IMPLEMENTATION PLAN

Under the bill, the Planning Commission for Higher Education must design and develop an implementation plan for a scholarship program that provides awards to students covering full-time enrollment at public higher education institutions during the (1) final two semesters of an associate degree program and (2) final four semesters of a bachelor's degree program.

The commission must do the following when forming the plan:

1. develop eligibility criteria for students after examining EFCs, as computed from a student's FAFSA;

2. specify the total award amount a student may receive and covered educational costs;

3. analyze administrative costs for the scholarship program;

4. consider funding sources to create and sustain the program; and

5. establish a timeframe for the program to begin.

By October 1, 2019, the commission must report to the Higher Education committee about the scholarship program plan.

BACKGROUND

Planning Commission for Higher Education

The commission develops and ensures the implementation of a strategic master plan for higher education. The plan must address, among other things, degree attainment, the number of people entering the workforce, and the achievement gap. It also must provide specific strategies for meeting its goals and consider the impact of education trends on higher education in Connecticut. The commission is housed within the Office of Higher Education (CGS 10a-11b).

In-State Student Classification

By law, with limited exceptions, in-state student classification is based on an applicant's domicile, which is his or her “true, fixed and permanent home” and the place where he or she intends to remain and return to when he or she leaves (CGS 10a-28 & 10a-29).

COMMITTEE ACTION

Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee

Joint Favorable Substitute

Yea

11

Nay

9

(03/15/2018)