As of Tuesday, November 1, 2016
It’s not often that a legislator comes face to face with the benefits of the policies he or she has passed into law. I had such an experience last month when I was able to address a room full of students at Columbia Gorge Community College, who are the first cohort of Oregon Promise students in the Gorge.
The Oregon Promise is a program that I was able to pass into law along with Sen. Mark Hass (D-Beaverton) in the 2015 legislative session. It provides tuition waivers to Oregon high school graduates who meet eligibility requirements and accept all federal and state grants that they may qualify for. The state then picks up the last dollar owed for their community college tuition so that the debt burden is removed for students who want to attend a college or trade school.
Since we passed the Oregon Promise into law, the response across the state has been tremendous. Over 19,000 applied to the program and 10,000 scholarships have been awarded and now these students are attending one of our 17 community colleges in Oregon. Across the state, enrollments are up. Here in the Gorge, the numbers are particularly encouraging. At CGCC, overall enrollment is up this fall by 5 percent and 94 Oregon Promise students are contributing to that increase.
During my time last month at the Oregon Promise student orientation, I asked for a show of hands for those students who were enrolled at CGCC only because they had been able to obtain a tuition waiver. Half the hands in the room went up. That was the most vivid evidence I could have asked for to demonstrate the success of the vision that Sen. Hass and I had two years ago. The hands that were raised belong to students who are enrolled in classes that will lead to jobs as dental hygienists, nurses and technology manufacturing right here in the Gorge. And they will be able provide for themselves rather than rely on our costly social safety net.
In the next legislative session, we will need to ensure sustainable funding for the Oregon Promise and make sure that critical student support services are available statewide so that we aren’t just enrolling more students but making sure they receive their degree. I look forward to being a part of that work.
Mark Johnson (R-Hood River) represents Oregon House District 52.