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Mississippi to award new health-related degree forgivable loan programs for first time since 2015

For the first time since 2015, the Student Financial Aid Office will be able to award nine forgivable loan programs primarily targeting nursing and other health-related professions.

After years of budget struggles, members of the Post-Secondary Board expressed surprise at a Monday meeting that the Legislature had fully funded Mississippi college financial aid programs this session.

This means that for the first time since 2015, the Student Financial Aid Office will be able to award nine forgivable loan programs primarily targeting nursing and other health-related professions.

The board briefly considered earmarking some of its funding, about $2.5 million from collections, for a “rainy day” – that is, a year when the Legislative Assembly is not as generous. OSFA had requested $48 million in general funds this session, and lawmakers ultimately appropriated about $50 million.

“Why are we getting more than we asked for? asked Barney Daly, board member and chairman of North Metro at Trustmark National Bank.

“I don’t know what lawmakers were actually thinking,” replied Jennifer Rogers, director of OSFA.

“Did we ever get more than we asked for?” Daly asked again, this time laughing.

Prior to this session, lawmakers had underfunded Mississippi student financial aid programs for years. From sessions 2019 through 2021, OSFA had to seek a deficit appropriation — meaning it had awarded more college financial aid dollars than lawmakers had allocated. OSFA is obligated to give financial aid to every undergraduate student who applies and qualifies for one of Mississippi’s three grant programs, but may pro-rate the awards if they do not receive sufficient state funding.

The OSFA did not receive enough funds from the legislature to provide its forgivable loan programs. In accordance with state law, OSFA may award its loan programs on a first-come, first-served basis only after each undergraduate student who applies for and qualifies for a grant receives it.

“It hadn’t happened in a very long time,” said Jim Turcotte, executive director of the Mississippi College Alumni Association and chair of the Council on Post-Secondary Education.

This year, OSFA will award up to approximately 460 students, primarily those pursuing a degree in nursing. Students who have met the March 30 deadline to apply have until April 30 to submit all their supporting documents. Typically, through these loan programs, the state will forgive one year of student loan in exchange for one year of service in Mississippi after graduation.

This excess funding could affect the urgency of the Mississippi One Grant, the overhaul of state financial aid programs proposed by the Post-Secondary Board last year. In rewriting existing state aid programs, the council sought to address the problem of legislative underfunding by capping the annual cost of the one-time grant at $48 million.

More students would be eligible for the One Grant scholarship than current state programs, but black and low-income students would on average lose thousands of dollars in college financial aid while white students would gain.

Still, some members questioned whether the board should save its extra funding rather than spend it. After Rogers explained that the council could choose to fund its forgivable loan programs, Turcotte asked his colleagues if it would be prudent to set aside the extra funds for a future session when the Legislative Assembly does not appropriate not that much.

“As we look to the future, there will be times in the future when we don’t have enough money allocated to this council to cover anticipated expenses,” Turcotte said.

“I’m just trying to look ahead because, again, I know there will be bleeding days ahead,” he added.

Daly asked if it was possible for the council to save the funds for a “rainy day”.

“I think if we’re not awarding, and we have a lot of deferral, there will be questions about why we’re deferring a lot of money,” Rogers said.

At the meeting, the board also discussed plans to implement a new scholarship for students who were in homestay. Rogers also updated the board on the Governor’s Summer Grant Program for Emergency Education Assistance. For this program, the Rogers office will award up to $3.5 million to students who have fallen behind in their classes during the pandemic. Rogers said she believes OSFA will award all funds this summer.

— Article credit to Molly Minta of Mississippi Today —