The Potluck

NDSU creates free tuition program after expressing concern over Minnesota’s

By: - November 9, 2023 3:33 pm

Sen. Omar Fateh, DFL-Minneapolis, on the front steps of the Capitol spoke about his bill to grant eligible Minnesota students free tuition to state colleges and universities on Tuesday, Feb. 21. Photo by Michelle Griffith/Minnesota Reformer.

Facing fierce competition from Minnesota’s new free college program, North Dakota State University announced Thursday that it will offer free tuition for eligible North Dakota and Minnesota first- or second-year students during the 2024-25 school year.

Students who have families with a gross adjusted income of $80,000 or less and are eligible for federal Pell Grant assistance qualify for the NDSU’s new tuition program, which will cover base tuition and student fees. 

The Minnesota Legislature passed a similar free college tuition program earlier this year for University of Minnesota and Minnesota State campuses, also for families with income of $80,000 or less.

In June, NDSU President David Cook said Minnesota’s free college program “has catastrophic implications” for North Dakota, since the majority of the NDSU student body is Minnesota residents who now may be more enticed to attend school in their home state thanks to free tuition.

Over 45% of NDSU’s 12,200 enrolled students in the fall of 2022 were Minnesota residents, according to university data. About 40% were North Dakota residents.

University officials estimated earlier this year that NDSU would lose $6.5 million in tuition revenue and fees and funding formula loss during the Minnesota program’s first year alone, according to The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. 

The new NDSU tuition program is only for the 2024-2025 school year, and the university said it’s “exploring options for continued funding.”

If Minnesota students stay here, that could ameliorate a longstanding cause of Minnesota outmigration. An August Star Tribune analysis found that every year, thousands more college students leave Minnesota than arrive, and many of them don’t return. 

Minnesota estimates its program — called the North Star Promise Scholarship — will cost about $117 million in 2024, and about $50 million annually after that. It will impact around 15,000 to 20,000 students, according to the state.

Both state programs have the same family income requirements and in both programs students must be in good academic standing. But NDSU’s is also offering free tuition to Minnesotans who qualify for reciprocity, while Minnesota just offers its tuition program to Minnesota residents.

For NDSU’s program a student must be enrolled full-time; a U.S. citizen; and a first- or second-year student.

“This is one way NDSU is able to change lives and sometimes generations of families by creating opportunities like this,” said Cook, NDSU president, in a statement. 

To learn more about who is eligible for NDSU’s free tuition program, visit To learn more about eligibility for Minnesota’s free tuition program, visit the Office of Higher Education website.

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Michelle Griffith
Michelle Griffith

Michelle Griffith covers Minnesota politics and policy for the Reformer, with a focus on marginalized communities. Most recently she was a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota where she covered state and local government and Indigenous issues.