Proposal would double state money for grants

    A proposal slated to go before the state Senate Education Committee August 13 would raise the amount of available state grant money and provide graduated amounts of aid to students with family incomes as high as $60,000.

    The available grant money would nearly double, from $78 million to $152 million biennially, and would primarily focus on increasing the Oregon Opportunity Grant. The proposal comes from a partnership between Gov. Ted Kulongoski and the OUS’s Access and Affordability Working Group (AAGW).

    The grant is currently available to students with a combined family income of $33,100 or less for a family of four. The PSU Financial Aid Office paid out 3,225 Oregon Opportunity Grants last year.

    ”It used to be that there was a kind of economic cliff, where if the cut-off was $30,000 and you made $30,000 and 25 cents, you didn’t qualify,” OUS Director of Communications Di Saunders said. “Now it’s more of a slope.”

    ”The model is designed to extend more into the middle class,” said Nancy Goldschmidt, AAWG lead staff member and Oregon Health and Science University assistant vice provost. She said that more Oregon Opportunity Grant funds would be disbursed when the need was greater.

    Kulongoski and the OUS Working Group also proposed the creation of a system called the Shared Responsibility Financial Aid Model. Estimating that the average student at a public Oregon university needs $14,859 a year to pay for tuition, food and housing, the groups suggest the cost be rationed out between four entities: the student, the student’s family, the federal government and the state.

    Under the Shared Responsibility Model, students would be responsible for $7,500 a year. This money is projected to come from full-time summer employment at minimum wage, 10 hours per week of minimum-wage employment during the school year, borrowing, scholarships, and grant money.

    ”The model assumes a minimum-wage job and a loan of $2,750 a year,” Goldschmidt said. “That gets you out with a much more reasonable debt load.”

    The second tier of funding would come from the student’s parents or household, using federal need analysis models to determine family contribution, while the third tier of funding would come from federal Pell Grants and tuition tax credits. The last contributor would be the state, which would make up the remainder of the yearly cost of school.

    Saunders said that OUS went through a series of focus groups with Oregonians, and that people had expressed a desire to see students receive aid and to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” She said the model was designed to make college widely affordable while keeping students involved in paying for their own educational bills.

    ”The student puts the first dollar in and is the primary stakeholder and primary beneficiary of that education,” Saunders said. “The state is the partner of last resort.”

    On August 13 the AAWG will present the new model to Oregon’s Senate Education Committee. The next step will be to seek funding in Salem.

    ”We’re hoping to get some of it done in the next legislative session, which starts in ’07,” said Mary-Ellen Glynn, a communications worker in the governor’s office. “It’s being phased in and we hope that in four years it will be fully funded. It may not help today’s college seniors, but we’re aiming to help the students who just graduated from eighth grade.”

    Possible revenue sources for the program include lottery revenue and the state’s income tax kicker refund, Saunders said.

    ”Everyone is very excited that if we can engage enough people in this conversation,” she said, “we will have reached that level where we can say to students, ‘You can go to college, it will be affordable, but the first dollar will be from you.'”