Oregon Just Did Something Huge for College Students

July 8th 2015

Oregon has taken up the mantle of affordable higher education by passing legislation that will provide thousands of qualified students with free access to the state's community college system. Senate Bill 81, also known as the "Oregon Promise," was approved by the state legislature this week, making Oregon the second state to advance a program that offers tuition-free access to community college. It now awaits the governor's signature.

In order to qualify for the waiver program, Oregon students must first apply for and receive federal grants. Then the state says it'll foot the rest of the bill, granting at least 10,000 prospective college-goers the opportunity to earn an education without having to incur student loan debt that's become endemic to much of the country. There are other eligibility requirements—students must enroll in courses that set them up for graduation and maintain a 2.5 grade point average, for example—but the progressive measure represents a push in the right direction for many education reform advocates.

Oregon state Sen. Mark Hass was one of the main architects behind SB 81, a measure that "is the result of years of research to design a way for the state to provide free community college to qualified Oregon students," according to a press release. Hass says that the state wants to convey a message to its younger residents: "[If] you finish high school, keep up your grades, and stay out of trouble, we promise to provide you with an opportunity to reach the middle class on your own.”

"I definitely think this is a national conversation," Hass told ATTN:. "States are the laboratories of democracy; and after Oregon, I hope there'll be other states that will follow suit, and pretty soon we can make this a national issue. I don't think it's a stretch to say that an educated and well-trained workforce is a matter of national security."


If the bill is signed, "Oregon will begin its program in 2016, with expenditures capped at $10 million per year," Willamette Week's Nigel Jaquiss writes. The governor has already signaled her support for the bill, and Hass expects it to be signed into law within the next few months.

"We know that there's not too many pathways to the middle class with just a high school education; and there's only one real path with limited education, and that's the path to poverty," Hass told me. "Poverty is very expensive, and that's the thing that a lot of people just don't see... a year of community college is a lot cheaper than a lifetime of food stamps."

Tennessee has passed a similar measure, and President Obama has proposed a federal-state partnership that would provide free community college nationwide. Obama unveiled his proposal in January, arguing that "no one with drive and discipline should [be] denied a college education just because they don’t have the money."


11:30 a.m.: This story was updated to include information from an exclusive interview with Oregon Sen. Mark Hass.

This story first published at 8:40 a.m. on July 8.

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