Opinion: Oregon’s graduate scholarship program is overdue for a boost

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Miles Davis, Nagi Naganathan and Kim Morgan

Davis is President of Linfield University and Chairman of the Board of the Oregon Alliance of Independent Colleges & Universities. Naganathan is president of the Oregon Institute of Technology and chairman of the Oregon Council of Presidents. Morgan is Chairman of the Board of the Oregon Community College Association.

The 19th century educator, Horace Mann, said, “Education, beyond all other man-made devices, is the great equalizer of men’s conditions, the pendulum of the social machinery.” The Oregon Legislature recognized the potential of higher education to be that great equalizer of society half a century ago with the passage of the Oregon Opportunity Grant.. This state-funded program provided need-based financial aid to more than 32,000 low-income Oregon students pursuing higher education in the 2019-2020 academic year.

As leaders of Oregon’s institutions of higher education – the Oregon Alliance of Independent Colleges and Universities, the Oregon Community College Association and the Oregon Council of Presidents – as well as the Oregon Student Association – we know that the Education creates opportunity. Now the next governor and state legislators, especially those serving on the Joint Task Force on Underrepresented Student Success in Higher Education, have the opportunity to increase access to education. upper Oregon.

Oregon lawmakers created the Opportunity Grant program in 1971, a year before Congress passed the Pell Grant. The Pell Grant also provides financial aid to low-income Americans who want to pursue a college degree and has helped more than 2.3 million Oregon students attend college since its inception. While these grants easily covered tuition and fees for students attending public universities and community colleges in the 1970s, state and federal divestment from public higher education contributed to a decline in government power. buying student aid programs. The onerous cost of higher education leaves far too many low- and middle-income Oregonians behind.

Increased investment in student aid grant programs has a demonstrable link to educational attainment. Opportunity Grant recipients are more likely to stay enrolled and earn a certificate or degree than those who only qualify for the Federal Pell Grant.

The Higher Education Coordinating Commission budget request includes a $780 million increase to the Opportunity Grant program. In the proposed budget, a community college student whose expected family contribution is zero will receive $6,533 for the 2023-24 academic year and $6,810 in 2024-25. For students attending four-year institutions, the estimated 2023-2024 scholarship amount is $12,546, rising to $12,897 for 2024-2025. Currently, those same community college students only get $3,600 and four-year-olds get $4,962.

Among Asian American, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, or Native American/Alaska Native students who report demographics when applying for financial aid, nearly one-third are currently served by the scholarship. opportunity, compared to 23% of white students, according to the commission’s report. Funding from the Commission’s request will help more students, and more students of color, access and succeed in higher education.

College affordability is a critical issue and will require a multi-pronged strategy to address it effectively. We need to work together on reforms that will improve student loan programs and target grants to those who need help the most. Oregon cannot fill the void alone. Congress should also heed the call to double the size of Pell grants. Oregon is fortunate to have a delegation that is broadly supportive of the Pell Grant. Investing in the Pell Scholarship is a proven strategy for improving student success and retention and increasing opportunity.

As students wait for Congress to double the Pell Grant, Oregon lawmakers can make a down payment on promises made to Oregon students by increasing the Opportunity Grant program in the 2023 session. It’s time to to create opportunities for all and to offer marginalized communities a realistic possibility of social mobility.

Maria Zavala, president of the executive committee of the Oregon Student Association, also co-wrote this op-ed.

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