Kulongoski pushes higher ed grant program

It’s been nearly a year since Gov. Ted Kulongoski first unveiledhis plans for a dream grant intended to cover tuition for Oregoncollege students to the state legislature. But over that year, theprogram-Access Scholarships for Education Trust, or ASET- has beengoing through some fine-tuning and may almost be ready forapproval.

Kulongoski hopes to have the finished proposal ready for thenext legislative session in January, when it could be put beforevoters as an amendment to the state constitution – a step theGovernor hopes will keep the program from being cut in hard budgettimes, much like the Oregon Opportunity Grant has been in recentyears.

“I think that what you have to do is understand that everystudent in this state needs to have access to a postsecondaryeducation,” Kulongoski said yesterday in an interview with theVanguard. “One of the areas Oregon has been lacking in is givingopportunities to qualified students to obtain a postsecondaryeducation.”

Tim Nesbitt, a member of the State Board of Higher Education andco-chair of its subcommittee on access and affordability, echoedthis sentiment, stating that the ASET program is “a prioritybecause Oregon measures up very badly for post-secondaryeducation.”

“What I do not want Oregon to become is like America was before1949,” Kulongoski said, when the only people who could go tocollege “were those of wealth and means.”

The Governor is also dedicated to stepping up other areas ofhigher education. Getting into an institution, he said, is only thefirst step.

Kulongoski would also like to ensure “a quality, first ratepostsecondary education,” especially within the individual academicprograms.

Additionally, he wants to make the university system moreefficient for students.

He hopes to address his number one priority of creatingbetter access through the establishment of ASET. Mainly, he said,he wants to serve the students, not the institutions.

“I am more interested in trying to see that students haveaccess, they have excellence and a state system administered in anefficient manner.”

The program is estimated to cost around $2 billion, but no oneis discussing any concrete means of funding just yet.

When Kulongoski made his proposal about ASET to the statelegislature last year, he had some ideas for funding. What hediscovered, however, was that “everybody wanted to argue about thefunds, not argue about the principle that I wanted toestablish.”

One idea that is still being considered as a possible means forfunding is using a percentage of capital gains taxes. Partialprivate funding is also a possibility.

The Access and Affordability Committee will be making theirreport on ASET to the board of higher education at their nextmeeting June 4 in Ashland.

Nesbitt said the committee will be discussing funding throughoutthe summer and will hopefully have a complete proposal bySeptember, and definitely in time for the next legislative sessionin January.

If the legislature approves the proposal, it will likely bepresented to voters in a special election in November 2005, thoughNesbitt noted that it could be later.

Whenever that happens, though, Kulongoski is confidant ASET willbe well received by voters.

“Most parents know today that the future success their childrenwill have in life is dependent on an education,” he said. “Thefuture is your child having the opportunity to actually get thateducation.”


What is ASET?

In designing the new financial aid program, the Access andAffordability Committee has come up with several options formeeting their goal of increasing bachelor’s degrees by providingbetter access to college for low-income students.
Structure alternatives:

1. Variable grant based on sector charges
This option gives students a broader choice of institutions, andincludes community colleges, public universities and privatenon-profit universities. The grant amount would be reflective ofthe costs incurred at the specific institution the student choosesto attend.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski has expressed support for this option overothers.

2. Maximum grant award tied to community college tuition and feecharges
With this option, community colleges would become the mostaffordable option in Oregon. Though considered the most simple toadminister, members of the committee have noted that it restrictsstudents’ options and may pressure more students to start at acommunity college. Concerns have also been raised about creatingand maintaining a system that supports a timely and equivalenttransfer to four-year institutions in order to complete abachelor’s degree.

3. Two-tiered maximum grant tied to public-sector tuition andfees (2-year or 4-year)
The first tier option in this choice would cover tuition at public,two-year colleges. Second tier students attending four-yearuniversities would receive a maximum grant allotment equivalent totuition and fees at public Oregon universities such as PortlandState, University of Oregon and Oregon State. The biggest concernwith this option is that it does not address the difference intuition between public and private four-year schools.

4. Two-tiered maximum grant tied to level of study
This option would give students a smaller grant in their first twoyears and a larger grant in their second two years. Committeemembers noted that though this option may motivate transferstudents to complete their degrees sooner, it may be difficult toadminister, especially considering that students may advanceacademic standing (freshman, sophomore, etc.) mid-year.
— Information adapted from a draft proposal by the Access andAffordability Working Group, part of the State Board of HigherEducation



The ASET debate: Where can the grant moneygo?

Members of the Access and Affordability Committee, along withothers from the State Board of Higher Education and Gov. TedKulongoski, are still struggling with the question of where grantmoney from ASET should be used.
One option allows grants to be used at any public or non-profituniversity in Oregon. These include schools under the purview ofthe Oregon University System as well as private schools, such asUniversity of Portland, Willamette University, Lewis and ClarkCollege and Reed College.
Another option would expand inclusion to for-profit schools, suchas the Art Institute of Portland, ITT Tech and University ofPhoenix. Committee and board members are concerned about theaccountability of for-profit schools, especially in light of recentinvestigations of fraudulent use of financial aid dollars at ITTTech. However, at the April 30 meeting of the committee, StevenGoldman, president of the Art Institute of Portland, pushed for theschool’s inclusion.
No decision has been made yet on whether to include for-profitschools in ASET or not.

— Sara Gundell