Page 173 - American_Higher_Education_V4

Basic HTML Version

173
By KathyWitkowsky
Salem, Oregon
L
ast Fall, an unprecedented infusion of state financial
aid gave Oregon college students and higher education
advocates reason to rejoice. Spurred on by Governor Ted
Kulongoski, who has consistently cited education as his top
priority, state legislators hadmore than doubled the amount
of need-based assistance available this academic year for state
residents, from roughly $34.5million to $72million, while
broadening the program’s eligibility requirements to include
middle-class students.
Those changes came on the heels of others that, for the
first time, allowed part-time students to receive state aid.The
intent was to increase the state’s dismal college participation
and achievement rates by removing financial barriers to higher
education.
“I’m really proud to be in a state where they have
decided to take a stand for education,” said Kathy Campbell,
associate dean of enrollment and financial aid at Chemeketa
Community College in Salem, and chair of the steering
committee that helped implement the new “Shared
ResponsibilityModel” for the need-based programknown
officially as the OregonOpportunity Grants. “That was a huge
turnaround.”
Even before its first year of full implementation was over,
the program exceeded expectations, as students applied for
and received aid in record numbers last fall, and schools
experienced a simultaneous increase in enrollment.The
challenge, said James Sager, the governor’s education policy
advisor, is, “How do we maintain [the program] in good and
bad economic times?”
And the bad times have arrived.The programnow faces
unforeseen hurdles due to the economic downturn, which is
expected to leave Oregon with a budget shortfall of between
$855million for the current biennium that ends in July, and a
$3 billion budget shortfall for the 2009-11 biennium.
The governor’s advisors said that he remains intent on
protecting the state’s investment in education. But as the
legislature began its 2009 session in January, education
advocates said that, while they were confident that the program
had enough political backing to guarantee its long-term
survival, they were nonetheless concerned about its immediate
future.
“It’s like ‘ATale of Two Cities’: the best of times and the
worst of times,” said Oregon University SystemChancellor
George Pernsteiner, who oversees the state’s seven four-year
public institutions. He lauded the program as a success, but
said he was “very stressed” about whether the current fiscal
situation would allow it to continue as is.
This year, according to the terms of the Shared
ResponsibilityModel, the state no longer awarded equal
March 2009
Financial Challenges
Oregon’s Opportunity Grant program must overcome new hurdles due to the recession
amounts of aid—11 percent
of the cost of attendance—to
all eligible students. Instead,
the program eliminates the
income “cliff” of $33,000 for a
family of four, expanding the
eligibility to include incomes
up to $70,000, and calculating
the aid on a sliding scale.
As originally conceived,
the formula started with
the cost of attendance,
then subtracted expected
sources of funding: federal
grants and tax credits and
family contributions. It also
assumed that students would
contribute their fair share
toward their education: that
students would work 15
hours a week for 48 weeks,
or full-time in summer and
ten hours a week during
the academic year, earning
minimumwage. Students at four-year institutions were
expected to provide an additional $3,000 a year through loans,
scholarships, savings or other means.The state would then pick
up the rest of the cost.
However, because of the lack of available state monies, that
formula had to be scaled back. So this year, the state applied a
multiplier of .19 to expected family contributions; in general,
that resulted in an increase in the amount of the contribution,
though for the neediest students it resulted in no change, since
their families weren’t expected to contribute
anything.This year, grants alsomaxed out
at $3,200 per year for four-year public and
private institutions, and $2,600 per year
for community colleges. By comparison,
last year the award amount was $1,752 for
a full-time student at a four-year public
school, and $1,470 for a full-time student at
a community college. (Awards to students
at the state’s 19 independent schools varied;
the highest was nearly $5,000.)
By factoring in a reasonable amount
that students could be expected to
contribute, education advocates overcame
common objections to increasing financial aid, objections
that were voiced during focus groups convened by the State
Board of Higher Education early in Governor Kulongoski’s
tenure. “The attitude was, ‘I paidmy way through college, why
“This infusion of cash in our students’ pockets is
a very empowering moment for them,” said David
McDonald, associate provost at Western Oregon
University, in Monmouth.
This year, according to
the terms of its new
“Shared Responsibility
Model,” Oregon no
longer awarded equal
amounts of aid to all
eligible students.
Photos by Brett Patterson, Black Star, for CrossTalk