Massachusetts offers tuition rebates for community college – with a catch

The Bay State will soon offer 10 percent rebates to students who attend community college and go on to complete their bachelor's degree at a Massachusetts state school – as long as they meet some stiff requirements.

Elise Amendola/AP
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker speaks at a signing ceremony at the Statehouse in March. Governor Baker on Thursday announced a plan to offer tuition rebates to community college students who go on to complete their degree at a state school.

Massachusetts officials have announced what they call a “first in the nation” education plan that would make college more affordable than ever before.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) and education officials announced the Commonwealth Commitment on Thursday: Tuition rebates for students who complete a two-year degree at a state community college and then go on to finish a bachelor’s degree at one of Massachusetts' state universities or a UMass campus within four and a half years.

"Even though public higher education in Massachusetts is already a great value,” said Governor Baker in a statement, “the Commonwealth Commitment will make it even easier for students to go to school full-time and to enter the workforce faster and with less debt.”

Sound like a good deal?

Potential participants should keep in mind the program’s many requirements. Unsurprisingly, prospective students must be Massachusetts residents. They must first attend one of the state’s 15 community colleges, before they attend one of the 13 state four-year universities, including any of the University of Massachusetts schools or the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

It gets harder. Students who take part must also achieve at least a 3.0 grade point average every semester, and choose a major in one of the two dozen eligible fields.

Participants also must adhere to a strict timeline while achieving their degrees, spending no more than four and a half years total in school, which makes it nearly impossible for students to hold a full time job and participate in the program.

Yet despite these strict requirements, students could be getting a great deal. If students maintain their grade point averages, they would receive a 10 percent rebate on tuition and fees at the end of each semester.

According to the state, students who participate in the Commonwealth Commitment program could save more than $6,000 over the course of their degree. Participants would also not be subject to yearly tuition increases, but would have their tuition frozen when they enroll.

Officials say that they hope this program will boost the number of college graduates in the Massachusetts workforce. Employers, they say, face a dearth of qualified applicants for positions.

Because the cost of the Commonwealth Commitment depends on how many students choose to take part, the state is not currently sure how much this program will cost.

State officials say that this plan was hard to pull together, but worth it.

"It was not easy or simple to hammer out an agreement among 28 undergraduate institutions with different missions and programs,” said Carlos Santiago, the state commissioner of higher education, “but I was extremely proud to see how presidents, provosts, faculty, and staff worked together with a sense of common purpose to get this done."

Massachusetts may be the first state to implement such a program, but other states are considering options to make college more affordable. Tennessee made community college free to all qualified high school graduates last year.

President Obama has also visited community colleges to promote a free community college model.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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