Is Funding Needed To Strengthen Oregon’s Higher Education? Is It Helpful For Low Income Student?

“Education, beyond all other instruments of human creation, is the great equalizer of the situations of mankind, the balance-wheel of the social machinery,” famously declared educator Horace Mann in the nineteenth century.

With the adoption of the Oregon Opportunity Grant fifty years ago, the Oregon Legislature acknowledged the potential of higher education to be this great social equalizer. More than 32,000 of Oregon’s lowest-income students seeking higher education degrees in the 2019–20 academic year received need-based financial aid via this state-funded program.

We know that education provides possibilities because we are the leaders of Oregon’s institutions of higher learning, including the Oregon Alliance of Independent Colleges and Universities, Oregon Community College Association, Oregon Council of Presidents, and the Oregon Student Association.

Now is the time for the state’s next governor and lawmakers, particularly those on the Joint Task Force on Student Success for Underrepresented Students in Higher Education, to enhance access to higher education in Oregon.

Before Congress approved the Pell Grant in 1971, Oregon’s lawmakers established the opportunity grant program. Since its establishment, the Pell Grant has helped more than 2.3 million Oregon students attend college and offers financial aid to low-income Americans seeking college degrees. In the 1970s, these grants easily paid tuition and fees for students enrolled in public universities and community colleges.

However, as a result of state and federal underinvestment in public higher education, the purchasing power of student assistance programs has decreased. After the pandemic, too many students from lower- and middle-income backgrounds are left behind by the prohibitive expense of higher education.

Education achievement and increased investment in student assistance grant programs are clearly related. Compared to students who are just eligible for the federal Pell Grant, Opportunity Grant recipients are more likely to continue their studies and complete a certificate or degree.

The Opportunity Grant program has been increased by $780 million in the budget request made by the Higher Education Coordinating Commission.

According to the suggested spending plan, a community college student with no projected family support will get $6,533 for the academic year 2023–2024 and $6,810 for 2024–2025. The expected reward amount for four-year institution students in 2023–2024 is $12,546, rising to $12,897 in 2024–2025. Currently, four-year students receive $4,962, while those attending community colleges receive only $3,600.

The Opportunity Grant currently serves nearly one-third of Asian American, Black or African American, Hispanic or Latinx, or Native American or Alaska Native students who report demographic information when applying for financial aid, as opposed to 23% of white students, according to the commission’s report. If the Commission’s proposal is granted, more studentsβ€”particularly those of colorβ€”will be able to enroll in and graduate from higher education.

Funding Needed To Strengthen Oregon's Higher Education
Funding Needed To Strengthen Oregon’s Higher Education

The cost of higher education is a serious problem that has to be addressed in a variety of ways. To strengthen student loan programs and direct subsidies to those who need them most, we must collaborate on improvements. Oregon can’t bridge the gap by itself.

Additionally, Congress needs to act to double the amount of Pell Grants. The Pell Grant is fortunately supported by a sizable portion of Oregon’s delegation. A tried-and-true method to boost student achievement, retention, and opportunity is to invest in the Pell Grant.

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