Pilot program to allow WAPS graduates to attend MSC Southeast for free

Pilot program to allow WAPS graduates to attend MSC Southeast for free
Woman speaks at a podium

WAPS Superintendent Dr. Annette K. Freiheit speaks during the announcement of the College Opportunity Program, a three-year pilot program that opens the door for all Winona high school graduates to have access to a tuition-free education at MSC Southeast.

Every graduate of Winona Area Public Schools over the next three years will have the opportunity to attend Minnesota State College Southeast — and they won’t need to worry about the tuition bill.

On Friday, WAPS Superintendent Dr. Annette K. Freiheit joined other educational and community business leaders in announcing the College Opportunity Program, a three-year pilot program that will ensure access to a free college education to every eligible student graduating from a Winona high school or homeschool program.

At the press conference Friday morning at MSC Southeast, Freiheit went “off script” in her remarks to mention that she was a first-generation college student. 

“We are excited about this opportunity for our students and community,” said Freiheit, a first-generation college student who spoke with pride about her parents’ careers in the trades and her son, who recently finished a two-year electrician program at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis. “This program opens up more doors for students as they consider their future plans and removes barriers that students and families face with post-secondary education costs.”

The opportunity is available to students graduating from Winona Senior High School and the Winona Area Learning Center, as well as other schools in the district area — Cotter High School, Hope Lutheran High School, Riverway Learning Community and homeschool programs.

“The College Opportunity Program is truly transformative for the students it serves,” said Dr.
Marsha Danielson, President of MSC Southeast. “This program bridges the chasm between talent and opportunity.” 

The College Opportunity Program is made possible by a group of investors who have committed to fund the pilot for the first three years. These companies and individuals are: Benchmark, Bob
Kierlin and Mary Burrichter, Fastenal Company, Gundersen Health, Miller Ingenuity, RTP Company, The Watkins Company, and Winona Health.  

Starting this fall, the College Opportunity Program will cover students’ full cost of tuition and fees and provide a stipend for books, supplies and tools. Winona students graduating in 2023 and 2024 will receive two years (up to 70 credits) at MSC Southeast plus $500 per year towards the cost of books, tools, supplies and materials – up to $1,000 per student. 

Because the College Opportunity Program is currently funded through 2026, students who graduate in 2025 will be eligible for one year of college (up to 35 credits) at MSC Southeast and a $500 stipend.  

Students can earn a certificate, diploma, or degree from any program taught at MSC Southeast, and will graduate career-ready or prepared to transfer onward to a four-year institution. 

“The College Opportunity Program will not only benefit students — it will provide an investment in the talent pipeline, increasing the number of trained, skilled, and credentialed local workers that are needed by employers in our region,” Danielson said. 

For more information about the College Opportunity Program and answers to frequently asked questions, go to www.southeastmn.edu/Opportunity

College Opportunity Program Logo