Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, seeking reelection, speaks during Mississippi Economic Council's 2023 Hobnob at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann told Mississippi business leaders Thursday he wants to make the state’s 15 two-year colleges tuition free.

Speaking at the annual Mississippi Economic Council’s Hobnob event, designed to allow the state’s business leaders to hear from political leaders, Hosemann said providing free tuition for community college students would help grow the Mississippi economy. He said in recent years the Legislature has expanded public pre-kindergarten programs, and he believed expanding higher education opportunities is the next logical step.

“We want to have the best economic life we can have for our citizens,” said Hosemann after his Hobnob speech at the Mississippi Coliseum. “You do that by educational opportunities.”

According to Hosemann’s office, 28 counties already have put in place local programs to provide free community college tuition. Under Hosemann’s plan, those counties probably would be able to divert their funds to expanded educational opportunities for their citizens.

Many of the counties offering free community college tuition are located in northeast Mississippi. In the past, Rep. Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn, who represents a portion of northeast Mississippi, offered a proposal similar to Hosemann’s, but it did not make it through the legislative process.

The program, which already is offered in some other states, is called “the Last Dollar” program. People entering community college are required to apply for any available grants and scholarships. The amount of the tuition not paid for by the grants and scholarships would be paid for by the state.

Hosemann said a bill will be drafted to be considered during the 2024 session.

The program would cost the state $25 million annually when fully enacted, Hosemann estimated.

He also said most likely students would be required to meet certain standards in high school to be eligible for the program. And he said it would most likely be fashioned in a way to enhance opportunities for those going into high demand areas, such as medical fields.

Hosemann already has met with the Community College Board to discuss the program.

Hoseman is seeking his second term as lieutenant governor. He is considered to be a heavy favorite for reelection on Nov. 7 against Democrat Ryan Grover, who did not speak Thursday at Hobnob.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.