Is free community college coming to Oregon?

Beaverton State Senator pushing for free community college for Oregon students

The state legislature is considering a new law that would make community college free in Oregon. February 24, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)
The state legislature is considering a new law that would make community college free in Oregon. February 24, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)

SALEM, Ore. (KOIN 6) — Free college? It’s what’s being talked about in the Oregon Legislature.

The state senate is considering a bill that would make community college free for Oregonians.

“A lifetime of food stamps is a lot more expensive than a year of tuition at a community college,” Beaverton State Senator Mark Hass told KOIN 6 News.

Senator Hass is pushing for free community college — and he thinks this could be the year his dream becomes a law. He said free higher education is exactly what thousands of graduating Oregon high schoolers need.

“They need an eight month course in welding, or to become a medical assistant or a police officer, and that’s what we’re looking at,” Senator Hass said. “There are opportunities for kids to get the first two years of their four degree, those core classes, out of the way.”

In order to fund free community college, the state of Oregon would have to spend about $9 million a year. Students taking advantage of the law would have to be Oregon residents for at least a year, and have a high school diploma or GED.

The state would pay what is leftover after students exhaust other long standing forms of federal student aid, like Pell Grants. According to a national education expert, even after financial aid and scholarships, community college students from low and moderate income families still need to come up with between $8,000 and $11,000 a year for school.

“It represents the amount of money students must borrow and earn and typically they need to do both in order to make college possible,” education policy expert Sara Goldrick-Rab said.

However, there are some concerns when it comes to free tuition. Some worry that more financial support could end up being absorbed by higher student fees.

A representative from Oregon’s biggest universities wants the four-year schools included in free tuition — the fear being, more students in community college could mean fewer in four-year programs.

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