Minnesota college students pursuing careers in high-demand fields can soon apply for a new financial aid source to help pay for their studies.

The Minnesota Office of Higher Education announced this month new grants for students who are seeking two- and four-year degrees in the fields of health care, STEM, education, business, industry and public-service roles such as law enforcement. Gov. Tim Walz invested $35 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds to create the college grant program.

"Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, front-line workers have kept Minnesota running," state Higher Education Commissioner Dennis Olson said in a statement. "These grants will help educate the next generation of front-line workers by providing tuition-free pathways to Minnesotans seeking careers in these high-need fields."

Olson added the program will help the state progress toward its goal of having 70% of Minnesotans ages 25-44 obtain a postsecondary certificate or degree by 2025.

The grants will be available for use at any public or tribal colleges in Minnesota. Institutions can opt in to offering the grants this coming spring. The statewide rollout will start next fall.

To be eligible, students must have a family adjusted gross income of less than $100,000 and have worked in a critical industry during the pandemic. Those who did not work in a critical industry must have a family income of less than $50,000 or have received unemployment income during the pandemic to qualify for the grants.

Grant awards will range from $100 to $15,400, depending on students' financial needs. The total amount awarded will be based on how much money a student has left to pay after traditional aid sources like the Pell and state grants have been applied.

The grant program is expected to last through 2024.

Ryan Faircloth • 612-673-4234