A number of state run student loan grants are aimed at keeping Mississippi students in-state at schools like the University of Mississippi, featured above. 

As higher education expenses continue to rise across the United States, questions have been raised within the state of Mississippi regarding how to continue affording three state undergraduate grant programs, prompting legislative action.

Currently, the state of Mississippi has three major undergraduate grant programs. The first is the Mississippi Resident Tuition Assistance Grant (MTAG) which is designed for those with low test scores and low high school grades. MTAG is available to most students, but not those who are poor enough to receive federal Pell Grants. MTAG provides mainly middle-class students and above with $500 in their first two years and $1,000 in their last two years.

The second grant program is the Eminent Scholars Grant, which is available to qualified students who posted an ACT score of 29 or above and maintained a high school GPA of 3.5 or higher. Such students would have access to $2,500 a year. With such high standards, the majority of students that qualify for the Eminent Scholars Grant come from affluent families.

The third and final program, and also the most generous, is the HELP Program. The HELP Program pays full tuition and fees to qualified students who come from a family that makes less than $39,500 a year. To be eligible, a student needs to achieve an ACT score of 20 or above and a high school GPA of 2.5 or higher. The HELP Program is the largest of the three Mississippi grant programs.

For the budget year starting July 1, Mississippi is projected to spend more than $18 million on 3,280 students that qualify for the HELP Program. For reference, Mississippi will spend $12.4 million on the 23,500 students who qualified for MTAG and $5.8 million for the 2,700 students who were eligible for the Eminent Scholars Grant.

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In a report released in May 2017, the Education Commission of States stated that the growth of the HELP Program resulted in a 221 percent rise in Mississippi’s spending on need-based grants. The rise occurred from 2011 to 2015, and it was the third highest percentage growth out of the U.S. states.

Now, lawmakers in Mississippi are projecting a $9 million deficit thanks to the continued growth of HELP and statewide budget cuts. With this in mind, students in Mississippi are no longer allowed to combine grants which will impact 3,400 students.

Additionally, officials will be checking student grades every semester which is expected to cause approximately 430 students to lose their grants. These two changes are anticipated to save $3.6 million.

Mississippi legislators were also able to save $5.3 million by eliminating new awards to a program that repays loans for borrowers who pursue a career in teaching or health care.

In 2016, the Education Commission of the States recommended that Mississippi should focus on ensuring students who come from families making less than $50,000 get the chance to attend college. That same report also hinted that the MTAG and Eminent Scholars Grant programs were failing at their original goal to keep top students in the state.

The Education Commission of the States was skeptical if the loan repayment programs are the most efficient use of Mississippi’s money. It was also suggested by the commission that a later application deadline for HELP be implemented, enabling part-time students to get grants. Right now, only full-time students are eligible for grants.

Mississippi’s state financial aid board will debate all of the options in the next few months, but a lack of money will make any new implementations difficult.

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