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By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

AMORY – Monroe County residents must now meet certain academic benchmarks to participate in the county’s higher-education tuition guarantee program.

The board of directors for the Gilmore Foundation, which funds the program, voted on Wednesday to require students to have at least a 2.5 high school grade-point-average in order to participate. Many students also will be required to reach a minimum ACT score, depending on their field of study.

Previously there were no academic requirements. The changes begin this fall.

“Without requirements, we really are failing our students,” said Gilmore Foundation Executive Director Danny Spreitler.

The program funds four semesters of community college tuition beyond what is paid for by scholarships and grants. Monroe County was the first in Northeast Mississippi to add the program in 2008, and 14 other counties have since created their own.

Spreitler said the change is being made to ensure students are better prepared for success in college. Fewer than 25 percent of the students who have participated in the county’s program have graduated from their community college, Spreitler said, and 46 percent have required remedial courses.

“We have this group of children who have a high school diploma and who are walking into Itawamba Community College and taking remedial classes and struggling and failing,” he said. “We need to instill the importance of being successful in high school and stress the importance of the ACT.

“Our goal of everyone getting a higher education hasn’t changed, but we have to have these young people prepared to do it.”

The foundation now will require clinical majors, such as those in the nursing program, to score an 18 on the ACT and most others to score at least a 16. Career technical education majors will not have a minimum ACT score.

The board also voted to restrict the program to alumni of one of the four school districts in Monroe County or GED recipients who have lived in the county for at least four years.

Monroe County is the only one in Northeast Mississippi that also funds two semesters of tuition at a Mississippi public university for community college gradates in the program. That portion is unchanged.

Monroe’s change does not affect tuition guarantee programs in other counties.

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