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Oregon Promise grants incoming students tuition help

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A student awaits assistance at the Financial Aid office. Photo by Saul Rodriguez

By Max Romprey

With the arrival of the new Oregon Promise initiative, the state of Oregon has entered a bold new future for subsidized community college as one of only a handful of states offering such an opprotunity to students.

The grant, which allocated $10 million for the coverage of “some or all” of the tuition for recent high school graduates or GED recipients entering community college, is now seeing its first year in action for the 2016-2017 school year.

Kathy Campbell, Chemeketa’s dean of financial aid, was on the policy committee responsible for the program. Campbell, who has been in financial aid in Oregon for 45 years, said she was selected for the group because of her experience.

She said that the committee was responsible for deciding how the available grant funds were distributed, and in some cases, tough calls had to made, such as the decision to freeze the awarding of aid beyond what accounts for a 12 credit-hour class load.

“Some of the decisions they made were to make sure that $10 million funded all eligible students,” she said.

She also said that the commonly repeated description of “free community college” associated with the Oregon Promise was an unfortunate misunderstanding owing to a delayed roll-out of information on the program.

“It was never free community college,” Campbell said. “I think that was not the right the term to use because there was always gonna be a student responsibility for part of the money.”

Hunter Winnen, a first-year student in the AutoCAD program and an Oregon Promise recipient, believed this exactly to be the case.

“I was expecting two years free, and then they were like: ‘OK, here’s the bill,’” he said.

Winnen was not planning to attend Chemeketa after graduation, but decided to apply when he heard about the Oregon Promise so he could take prerequisite courses in preparation for future college plans.

He said that the process for obtaining aid has been confusing throughout, with new requirements, such as the submission of an essay, being presented to him without warning.

The concern of clear communication was echoed by Jose Ceja Garibay, who currently works as an adviser for Oregon Promise students at the college. He said that such issues are to be expected, since the program is so new.

Despite these hiccups, the Oregon Promise has had a warm reception from Chemeketa students.

Cody Luth, a second-year student studying engineering who is a recipient of the Chemeketa Scholars scholarship (an award of full tuition for up to two years for students with a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher), is glad that Oregon Promise allows for more students to have access to college classes.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for others to get a good education for cheap,” he said.

Cierra Labounty, a second-year student and another recipient of the Chemeketa Scholars scholarship, said that she is happy that the Oregon Promise program has allowed more students to attend Chemeketa.

“I think if students want to go to college and they are dedicated to learning and they want to be here, then they have the right to be here,” she said. “If more people have the opportunity to go to college, then that’s a great thing.”

The Oregon Promise is, at the time of this writing, still pending legislative approval for the 2017-2018 school year. Campbell is optimistic that the program will be renewed by the Oregon legislature.

“[The Oregon legislature] will only have one quarter’s worth of data on the Oregon Promise students before meeting…I think, for a fair shot, they’ll find a way to [renew it.],” she said.