New MS program offers future teachers free college education

LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - If you want to become a teacher, a new state program can help you go to college for free. Eligible students can receive up to $15,000 a year to attend a four-year institution in Mississippi.

But those who apply must first make the grade. Some students aren't too happy with the eligibility requirements.

In one class at USM Gulf Park, more than a dozen college juniors and seniors dream of one day being at the head of their own classroom. And for some, those dreams come with the worry of paying for college.

"I paid for my own college and it was hard and I had to take out a student loan last year," said USM Senior Misty Hawley.

This year, to lift the burden of student loan debts and help boost the number of exceptional teachers, the state legislature approved the Teacher Education Scholars Program. Eligible students can receive up to $15,000 a year, which covers tuition, room and board, and books. In return, those who receive the money must agree to teach in a Mississippi public school for at least five years.

"That's a great scholarship benefit, but I think they're going to have a hard time finding a lot of people who meet the requirement," said USM Senior LaQuita Gresham.

Incoming freshmen who are interested in the program must have a minimum of 28 on their ACT and a 3.5 GPA in high school. College students who apply must also have at least a 28 ACT score and a 3.5 GPA.

Many students said those grade requirements put this new financial aid program out of reach for them.

"I think it's a great idea. But right now, I think with the ACT qualification is too strict. I personally don't have the ACT requirement. I do have the GPA and I've never dropped below a 3.5. I think maybe something like a 25 ACT would be a little bit more reasonable," said Gresham. "It's kind of discouraging, because there's not really a way for us to work around it. It can't benefit me."

It may be too late for some students, but they say the incentive of a free college education will push high school students to work even harder.

"I think the ACT score's a little high, but I think it's a great program. I can see a lot of students getting into it, because they do have a high ACT score and they're getting money handed to them for doing it," said Hawley. "I wish I would have done something differently now that I know this money can be offered to me. It would have helped me a lot."

The state legislature appropriated $1.5 million for the Teacher Education Scholars Program, so only 100 students will be selected to receive the award money. The deadline to apply is September 15th.

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