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The Rough Road of Financial Aid For College: Oregon Promise Grant Narrows Eligibility

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Financial aid for college can be a tricky proposition: Loans can help pay for school, but also can dig a financial hole that takes years to get out of. It is a tricky, billion-dollar question that is limiting access to college for tens of thousands of students nationwide, and Southern Oregon is no exception.

According to Rogue Community College’s website, of the 16,420 students (including full-time enrollment, credit students and non-credit students) for the 2015-2016 school year, $23,738,651 in financial aid was awarded to 3,974 students. That is roughly one of four students.

Within that number is a specific grant that the Oregon Legislature designated three years ago to open opportunities for particularly cash-strapped students, the Oregon Promise Grant, a money-from-heaven funding with, at first, few limitations. But with new restrictions add each subsequent year since its approval, this grant serves as a canary in the coal mine example of how funding is offered and can just as quickly vanish.

Of the students at RCC seeking financial aid, just over 350 local students were able to utilize the Oregon Promise Grant for the previous school year; now that grant is now inching towards an entirely need-based eligibility.

Put in place by the Oregon State Legislature in July 2015 (Senate Bill 81) for the 2016-2017 school year, the Oregon Promise Grant offered tuition to first-year college students, the only limitations being: graduating from an Oregon high school or a GED recipient; having a 2.5 cumulative high school GPA or higher or a GED score of 145 or higher on each test; planning to attend at least half-time at an Oregon community college within six months of high school graduation or GED completion; being an Oregon resident for at least 12 months prior to attendance; filing a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) or ORSAA (Oregon Student Aid Application); and, not having more than 90 college credits completed or attempted. Sounds doable, right?

But, this opportunity for funding changed for the 2017-2018 school year. Applicants for the Oregon Promise Grant were further limited by their EFC (Expected Family Contribution) to the tune of $18,000, a constraint because of an $8 million deficit in the high-demand program, according to a press release from Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission in July. The press release further fleshed out the deficit thus: “due to high turnout for the new program and limited funding to meet projected costs, new applicants entering community college this fall will see changes to eligibility requirements for the Oregon Promise.”

Sadly, there just isn’t enough green to go around. If the allotted $10 million was divided between the 45,000 Oregon high school graduates in 2015, then each student would get a paltry $222 each for their inaugural college education, according to RCC’s website; roughly enough to pay for books and supplies, but not tuition.

However, Rogue Valley recipients are protecting their piece of the pie. RCC Financial Aid Director Anna Manley reported that approximately 1200 students in the Rogue Valley were authorized for the Oregon Promise Grant for this coming school year.

“We are grateful for the resource for students,” she says. “It is a wonderful opportunity. It pays for a large part of tuition, what is not covered by the Pell Grant.” (Pell Grants are “usually are awarded only to undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor’s or a professional degree,” according to studentaid.ed.gov. And, “for the 2017–18 award year (July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018), the maximum Federal Pell Grant award is $5,920.”)

Recipients in the inaugural 2016-2017 school year are grandparented in for this school year, providing that they complete their FAFSA, meet RCC’s Satisfactory Academic Progress requirements, have been continuously enrolled at least half-time since time of eligibility, and have attempted fewer than 90 credits.

Another option along this same vein for Oregon community college-goers is the Oregon Opportunity Grant (OOG), which is Oregon’s largest state-funded, need-based grant for college students, with nearly 40,000 students utilizing it every year. Manley added that $2.5 million was authorized for RCC students last year through the OOG.

 

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