Oregon Promise vs. state budget problems

A free community college program in Oregon is facing drastic proposed budget cuts, Andrew Theen reports for The Oregonian.

Oregon Promise is a last-dollar community college scholarship program that started two years ago. In order to qualify, students must be a current high school student or GED program student and must have maintained at least a 2.5 GPA. Thousands of students applied shortly after the state began accepting applications in November 2015.

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But now lawmakers in the state are considering dramatic funding cuts to the program, Theen reports. In their proposed budget for the next fiscal year, lawmakers plan to designate $40 million for Oregon Promise for the next two years, which is $8 million less than officials estimate the program needs.

To balance the program's budget, lawmakers are considering making the income requirements more stringent by making the program exclusively available to students whose families who are unable to contribute $18,000 per year towards their college expenses.

The state predicts that the policy change may affect 1 out of every 6 applicants, Theen writes. About 20% of students are from families with $111,603 or greater incomes, and roughly 75 students who receive the Oregon Promise scholarship are from families with a median adjusted gross income greater than $238,000.

State Sen. Rod Monroe (D-Portland) says the changes will help lawmakers ensure the future of the program. "It's attracted way more students than we originally budgeted for… which is a good thing, but it costs more," he says.

Roberto Suarez, program manager for Oregon Promise at Portland Community College, says he's getting a lot of questions about the future of the program from students and their families. He adds that the budget challenges will make things "rockier" for the second year of Oregon Promise.

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Ben Cannon, executive director of the Higher Education Coordinating Commission, acknowledged that lawmakers face tough choices, but says the timing of the change will create "significant hardships" for some students. The deadline for incoming college students to apply was July 3, and more than 13,800 high schoolers and GED students have submitted applications, according to Theen (Theen, The Oregonian

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