Senator's scaled-back plan for free college would target worker shortages

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A northwestern Minnesota lawmaker has scaled back his plan to ease worker shortages in certain industries by having the state cover tuition at 2-year colleges.

Under DFL Sen. LeRoy Stumpf's revised plan, only a few thousand high school graduates would qualify for free college – and only if they're getting trained in certain high-demand skills.

Supporters of the proposal see it as a way to ease worker shortages that have stifled the growth of some businesses, especially in smaller communities.

But the high cost of Stumpf's original plan seemed to make its chances of legislative approval dim. The Associated Press says prospects for the streamlined proposal are still murky, with its chances of getting a hearing in the House uncertain.

MPR News says the cost of the new plan is estimated to be less than $31 million, which compares to more than $100 million for the original plan.

Stumpf's Senate district includes Thief River Falls. The Wall Street Journal recently used that town to illustrate the phenomenon of "job islands" – isolated communities where there are more jobs than people to fill them.

A shortage of trained workers, the Journal says, is stifling the output of some manufacturers.

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