A last-minute bill passed by Oregon legislators will offer free community college to students.
The bill makes Oregon the second state in the nation to offer free community college. Tennessee was the first. More than 10,000 students are expected to benefit from free tuition in Oregon.
The bill, according to Democratic State Sen. Mark Hass from Beaverton, is intended to help needy students who may like to attend college but are failing to apply for federal grant programs.
The legislation means Oregon will pay the balance left over from eligible students who apply for and receive federal grants to go to community college.
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Recipients are required to have lived in Oregon for at least one year. Students will also have to begin community college course work before six months after having finished high school or a GED program. They must also take courses that are required for graduation and maintain a 2.5 grade point average.
Each student is also required to pay a minimum of $50 each term.
The state estimates 70,000 Oregonians between the age of 18 and 24 are unemployed and lack any higher education. The cost of supporting that, as well as supporting one year of social services is $14,000, Hass said in legislative testimony.
“A lifetime of food stamps is much more expensive than the annual community college tuition of $3,000,” Hass told legislatures in May.
Because the program is new, nobody knows how many students will take advantage, Hass says. Legislative estimates say between 10,000 and 12,000 students will benefit, reports Willamette Week.
Oregon's Senate and House both approved the bill. Lead by Republican State Rep. Mark Johnson of Hood River, a majority of House Republicans voted for the bill. Johnson worked closely with Hass on the bill.
Hass says the bi-partisan support for the bill, which increases costs to the state, is indicative that Oregon’s economy has changed because there are no longer jobs in forests and mills.
Gov. Kate Brown can either sign or veto the bill. If the bill is signed, Oregon will start the program in 2016 and expenditures will get capped at $10 million a year.
In Tennessee, the only other state with a similar program, more than 80 percent of students who took part in the program last year received full or partial grant funding from the federal government. The state paid the balance.
“We’re saying to our young people, if you finish high school, keep up your grades, and stay out of trouble, we promise to provide you with an opportunity to reach the middle class on your own,” Hass wrote in a news release.
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