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can’t they?’” said James Sager,
the governor’s education policy
advisor. “The general public
didn’t understand the true cost
of attending college today—that
students can’t pay their way
through.”
Aworking group comprised
of educators, students and
policymakers, with help from the
Western Interstate Commission
for Higher Education, repackaged
the issue, basing it on a model
that has long been in place in
Minnesota.
“The pitch in the past has
been, ‘We don’t have enough,
and we needmore,’” said Brian
Prescott, WICHE’s director of
policy research. “That’s not really
tied to anything real. And this
is.”What’s more, it’s palatable to
those on the conservative as well
as the liberal end of the political
spectrum, he said.
“What this approach does is let policymakers and
everybody else tell the public that students are earning their
way through college to the extent possible,” said Dennis
Jones, president of the National Center for Higher Education
Management Systems.
To promote the beefed-up program, the state undertook a
$300,000 statewide bilingual marketing campaign.The state’s
overall educational participation rates are below the national
average, andHispanics, the state’s largest minority population,
lag even further behind: In 2007, 14 percent of Hispanic young
adults were enrolled in college, compared with 33 percent of
whites; only ten percent of the state’s Hispanic population have
a bachelor’s degree, whereas 31 percent of
whites do.
“Don’t Just DreamAbout College...
GO!” urged brochures, posters, radio and
television advertisements marketing the
Opportunity Grants.The response was
overwhelming: In 2008, a record number
of students filled out a Free Application
for Federal Student Aid; 38,500 of those
students received Opportunity Grants last
fall, about 11,000more than had received
them in previous years, and 4,000more
than the state had predicted.
Enrollment at the state’s four-year
public institutions was up this past fall by
an average of 5.2 percent; at Oregon’s 17
community colleges, enrollment jumped by an average of
10.3 percent. (The program appears to have had the opposite
effect on the state’s independent colleges, where the number
of students who received awards increased from1,400 to
2,500, but where awards for the neediest students were less
this year than last year.) And while much of that change in
enrollment might well be due to the downturn in the economy,
administrators said they believe the expanded Opportunity
Grants also played a significant role.
“This was exactly the right response for exactly the right
reason,” said OUS Chancellor George Pernsteiner.The new
Opportunity Grant, he said, sent an important message: “Your
state believes in you, it will invest in you, and here’s proof of it.
And people took us up on that.”
For students likeMayra Gomez, 20, of Hermiston, Oregon,
a first-generation college student who is pursuing a double
major in community health studies and health sciences at
Portland State University, the additional money meant that she
could reduce her work hours by half—from20 hours a week
to ten—and that she didn’t have to add to the $6,000 in loans
that she has already accrued.The additional aid alsomeant she
could afford to live on campus this year, instead of commuting
40minutes each way from an apartment in a different section
of Portland, as she did last year. As a result, she said, her grades
have improved.
“Because I receivedmore money, I was able to work less
and study more,” said Gomez, who is determined to finish
college so she won’t have to work in the agricultural factories
and fields in easternOregon, as her parents do.
“This infusion of cash in our students’ pockets is a very
empowering moment for them—allowing them to pursue the
college dream,” said DavidMcDonald, associate provost at
WesternOregon University inMonmouth, who was in charge
of the efforts to promote the program.
At WOU, a small undergraduate-focused institution near
Salem, where more than half the students are first-generation
college-goers, and 70 percent receive financial aid, the results
have been felt already. Some 1,200 students—more than a third
of the school’s Oregon resident undergraduate students—are
receiving Opportunity Grants worth a total of $2.8million,
compared to 799 recipients last year who shared a total of $1.1
million. “That’s huge,” saidMcDonald.
Administrators at other Oregon institutions expressed
similar enthusiasm. “It’s been wonderful for our students,”
said Campbell, of Chemeketa Community College, where
enrollment increased by a whopping 18 percent last fall. Not
only has the maximum award for full-time students increased
by more than $1,100, but 650 part-time students are now
also receiving Opportunity Grants they would not have been
eligible for under the prior rules.The result, she said, is that
fewer students have had to take out loans.
If the story ended there, in the middle of the fall quarter, it
would have had a happy ending.
But as the economy worsened, and revenues fell, the
governor was legally obligated tomake across-the-board cuts
to state agencies that receivemoney from the state general
fund.That 1.2 percent reduction, combined with a drop in
lottery interest earnings, another source of Opportunity Grant
funding, essentially wiped out a $4million emergency fund
allocation that the Opportunity Grant programhad received to
deal with the unexpected crush of students who had qualified
for the awards.The program ran out of money, and the Oregon
Student Assistance Commission announced that students who
hadn’t applied for financial aid prior toDecember 1, 2008 would
not receive any awards during the 2008-09 academic year.
Kathy Campbell, associate dean of enrollment and
financial aid at Chemeketa Community College,
in Salem, Oregon, chaired the steering committee
that helped to implement the plan.
As the economy
worsened, the
governor was legally
obligated to make
across-the-board cuts
to state agencies that
receive money from
the state general fund.