Imagine going to community college for free. Is that a myth or a real-life possibility? The answer is: it depends.
There’s been a lot of hype about “free college” since the state legislature passed the Oregon Promise Bill in July 2014. But what does the Oregon Promise really mean?
First, it is not exactly free for everyone. The legislature approved only $10 million for the program, not enough to completely fund every Oregonian for two years of community college. Only some people will qualify to have their educations partially subsidized by the state. Here’s the list of criteria.
- Funding is for Oregon residents who have graduated from an Oregon high school or earned a GED to go to community college.
- Students must enroll in an Oregon community college within six months of graduating or completing their GED.
- They must be enrolled at least half-time (6 credits) in one-year transferable coursework or an associate degree or CTE program.
- They must first file a Federal Application for Financial Aid (FAFSA).
- Students will have to maintain a 2.5 grade point average and show progress toward their academic goal.
Lisa Cragg’s nephew, Trey, is among the first group of college students to benefit from the Oregon Promise. As Trey’s foster parent, Lisa had access to a variety of agency resources for college assistance, which she says made the financial options more confusing.
“It wasn’t until I sat down with [RCC financial aid director] Anna Manley that things made sense,” she says. “I learned more in an hour with her than I learned in eight hours with the other agencies.”
Anna was able to help Lisa calculate exactly what to expect in tuition, books, and other expenses, and how much help Trey could receive from the Oregon Promise and other aid. Since Lisa and her husband had not saved for Trey’s college education, the Oregon Promise grant made college a feasible option.
“Going to community college allows him to make that transition from high school to college responsibilities without also having to worry about how to pay rent and utilities, which is a lot to take on at once,” Lisa says. “My hope is that Trey will go on to be self-supporting and contributing to the community.”
Grants will be provided to students starting in the 2016-2017 academic year. The minimum award available to students is expected to be $1,000, and Oregon Promise dollars will be applied only after other federal and state financial aid is awarded. Students are encouraged to apply for other grants and scholarships in addition to Oregon Promise funding.
Bottom line—even if it doesn’t cover the entire cost of school, the Oregon Promise can only help. “Rogue Community College enthusiastically supports any program that will help more people get more access to a college education,” says Peter Angstadt, RCC president. (Applications for 2016 closed in March and will open for 2017 in the fall.)