Education: Oregon Promise bill holds just that

At 6:05 p.m. on July 7 the 2015 Oregon Legislative Session came to an end. The final days and hours of a session are filled with the consideration of a huge amount of policy and budget bills that must be passed before the final gavel falls. This year I had particular interest in one bill that passed out late — SB 81.

Also known as the Oregon Promise, SB 81 is a bill I sponsored along with Sen. Mark Hass and Rep. Tobias Read that is designed to make community college affordable for all Oregon students. The bill works like this: if you attend an Oregon high school and graduate with at least a 2.5 GPA, enroll in an Oregon Community College within six months of graduating, and apply for and accept all federal and state grants that you are eligible for, the state will pick up the tab for the balance owed for the cost of tuition. In other words the state pays the last dollar. As long as you maintain a 2.5 GPA and stay continuously enrolled in courses to receive an associate’s degree or career technical certificate you can access up to 90 credits. Tennessee passed similar legislation last year and has seen millions of dollars of new federal Pell Grants flow into their state to support students. Their community colleges have seen enrollments increase dramatically for next fall.

The Oregon Promise is designed to address a couple of key concerns in Oregon. One is the cost of college and the debt that students accumulate. The Oregon Promise will say to those high school students who might not have considered college as a possibility due to the costs, if you study hard and play by the rules, the state will make it possible for you to attend and obtain a degree or career certificate.

The second is workforce development. Gone are the days when a student could graduate from high school and find a good paying job at a lumber mill or manufacturing plant. More than 2/3 of all jobs now require some level of post-secondary education. The Oregon Promise will help more of our youth obtain the important career training needed in order to be financially self-sufficient and not have to rely on costly public assistance. It will also help provide the skilled workforce our private sector needs in order to grow.

SB 81 allocates 10 million dollars to provide tuition support for students beginning in the fall of 2016. A companion bill I worked on contains an additional $7 million to build the support services necessary for students to successfully transition from high school to college and to ensure they are making progress towards completion.

Recent figures estimate that there are 70,000 people between the ages of 18-24 in Oregon who don’t have a job or any post-secondary education. I believe the Oregon Promise can begin to change this troubling statistic by investing in education leading to a more prosperous society.

State Rep. Mark Johnson, Dist. 52, lives in Hood River.

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