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'Free' Community College Proposal Moving In Salem

Lucius Beebe Memorial Library via Flickr

State Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, wants to make community college all but free for qualifying students in Oregon. The bill would allow certain students to pay $50 per term in tuition fees. Earlier this year, President Obama announced that he wanted to make community college tuition-free nationwide, a proposal that does not appear likely to make much headway in Washington D.C. 

Hass says the current bill is aimed at the 70,000 young people in Oregon labeled as “idle youth.” He says they are “the people that in past generations used to walk out of high school into a lumber mill.”

“Those days are gone,” says Hass. “Now we need welders, medical assistants, mechanics, dental hygienists, dentists, digital media producers, all of those jobs need training, and we have employers begging to hire people with those kinds of skills.”

Hass says the program is open to all high school graduates with a GPA of 2.5 or higher and who complete federal financial aid forms. The idea is that federal Pell Grant money will pay for much of the costs of the program.

But the Oregon Student Association and the Oregon Community College Association have expressed concerns with the bill in its current form.

“We really believe that the best thing for students is to have truth in adverting, and when you have a program that maxes out your Pell grant and your Oregon Opportunity Grant, you end up taking out student loans to pay for textbooks, which can be up to 25 percent of the costs,” says Emma Kallaway, OSA executive director.

She says if the state really wanted to help low-income youth, it would fully fund education and the state need-based aid program called the Oregon Opportunity Grant, “which by the way, only 25 percent of students who qualify for need-based financial aid in Oregon, receive that grant.”

Hass agrees that “Every level of education, from early learning to higher education is underfunded.” But he says the $20 million dollars in the community college bill leverages a lot of federal money with a relatively small amount of state money, something that couldn’t be done if the state were to put that toward the Opportunity Grant or the higher ed budget.

Lawmakers in Salem are hoping to wrap up all legislative business by the end of June or early July.

education higher education community college economy oregon legislature

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