The Oregon Promise Scholarship is supposed to help high school seniors with community college costs, but 80% of the money goes to students who are least in need.
South Salem High School Class of 2021 students celebrate their graduation (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)
Money to help high school seniors in Oregon pay for community college is flowing disproportionately to students with lower financial needs.
At the Senate Education Committee meeting Jan. 12, Juan Pez-Arévalo, director of the Office of Student Access and Completion at the Higher Education Coordinating Committee, told lawmakers that the Oregon scholarship promised changes needed to help more low-income students get help.
Currently, 80% of the money goes to students whose family income is too high for Federal Pell Scholarships. These scholarships are awarded to those who come from families with an income of less than $50,000.
About 40% of Oregon’s promised dollars go to students from families with incomes over $100,000, according to Biz Arevalo.
The Oregon Promise Scholarship was established in 2016 to encourage high school graduates in Oregon and those pursuing a GED—a high school equivalency diploma—to attend community colleges in the state by making them more affordable.
During the 2020-21 school year, more than $14.5 million in Oregon Promise scholarships were distributed to nearly 9,000 students.
It is not a need-based scholarship, like the Oregon Opportunity Scholarship, which is awarded to students with the lowest incomes in the state. Any high school applicant or recent GED recipient can apply for an Oregon Promise scholarship as long as they have at least a 2.5 grade point average or at least 145 on their GED test. They must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and receive their scholarship application within the final year or immediately after completing their final GED exam.
Nearly half of Oregon Promise scholarship recipients are low-income students, but they receive, on average, about $350 less than their higher-income peers each year.
More low-income students receive the minimum grant amount, $1,000, than high-income students.
This is because the Oregon Promise is the “last dollar” grant program. Work begins after all other grants and scholarships have been awarded, such as the Oregon Opportunity Scholarship and the Federal Pell Scholarship, and covers portions of what remains.
The maximum scholarship amount has grown over the years as tuition costs have risen, to more than $4,000, but the minimum scholarship amount of $1,000 has remained the same.
Students pay up to $150 annually in subscriptions to receive the scholarship. For those who receive the minimum scholarship, disproportionately from the lowest-income students, it could mean that they receive only $850 per year from the scholarship.
“The award’s purchasing power has eroded, especially for the lowest-income students,” Baez Arevalo told lawmakers.
He proposed changing the law so that the minimum scholarship amount would increase each year, like the maximum amount, to keep pace with rising costs of education. He also suggested that they eliminate participation and lower the minimum GPA requirement to 2.0.
The Northwest Regional Education Laboratory, part of the Federal Institute of Education Sciences, found that lowering the minimum GPA requirement would increase participation in the scholarship program among low-income students, students of color, male students, and students receiving special education services.
The typical recipient of an Oregon Promise is female and Hispanic, according to the Higher Education Coordinating Committee.
Despite increasing access and affordability to community colleges, the Oregon Promise scholarship has not created significant increases in community college enrollment among state high school seniors. In the 2020-21 school year, only about 5% of all community college students in the state received the Oregon Promise Scholarship, according to the Higher Education Coordinating Committee. That’s because most community college students in Oregon today don’t come from high school, but are 25 or older.
During the 2021 legislative session, Baez-Arevalo and the Office of Student Access and Completion proposed updating eligibility requirements and expanding the Oregon Promise Scholarship to high school seniors and GED recipients planning to attend state public universities, Oregon Health and Science University, or any Oregon-based not-for-profit higher education institution . It is not approved.
In an interview in November, Baez Arevalo told the Capital Chronicle that he and his office have been rolling out needed changes to the grant for at least the past four years.
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