JACKSON, Miss. — A step toward helping poorer Mississippi students pay for college is moving ahead.
The House unanimously passed Senate Bill 2454 Thursday. It returns to the Senate for more work.
Now, only students from families making less than $36,500 a year are eligible for the Higher Education Legislative Plan.
That's the only state aid program aimed at poorer students. It awards the cost of tuition — averaging $6,329 this year — to students who score higher than 20 on the ACT college test and had a 2.5 GPA in high school. The state spent $3.2 million on HELP in 2012.
The income ceiling would rise to $39,500 on July 1, 2015, and $42,500 on July 1, 2016. Applications would be streamlined.
The changes would add $3 million to the program's cost.
The House bill would push back the effective dates of the increases from the Senate's proposal, which had called for the increases to take place in 2014 and 2015, delaying the spending.
Higher education leaders had voted in September to recommend that lawmakers revamp financial aid to make it easier for students to apply for and give more money to poor students. However, enacting all the changes that the group considered would cost a projected $77 million. The state is spending only $28 million this year.
Faced with such a daunting price tag, lawmakers agreed to consider only smaller changes. That means Mississippi will still give the most aid to relatively better-off students.