Governor Lauds Increase in Aid for College Students

Article excerpt

Byline: Anne Williams The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - Eager to spread the word to those whose college dreams may hinge on affordability, Gov. Ted Kulongoski made a stop at Springfield High School on Thursday to tout this year's expansion of Oregon's college financial aid system.

Thanks to an infusion of dollars from a supportive state Legislature, an estimated 6,000 more students will receive financial aid for post-secondary education in the 2008-09 school year, the governor told an audience of at least 400 juniors and seniors. Available funds in the Oregon Opportunity Grant program will jump to $72 million from $35 million, he said, opening doors to students who previously haven't qualified for aid because their family incomes are too high.

The decades-old program last year helped 27,000 low-income students pay for college, but it has offered nothing for those in the middle, Kulongoski said - "people who don't qualify for any of those low-income programs, but we've priced you out of the marketplace" with escalating college tuition.

The retooled program also will follow a new "shared responsibility model," which asks students and their parents to shoulder their fair share of the college expense burden, perhaps by taking a part-time job, borrowing funds or dipping into savings. Students also are expected to first seek the maximum federal aid available, such as Pell Grants.

The ideal, Kulongoski said, is that "the state will fill the gap" - although he conceded that the grant fund still falls short of that. With about 75 percent of the necessary dollars in place for next year, he'll push for 100 percent in the next biennium, he said.

"The state has finally recognized this issue of how important you all are to all of us," said Kulongoski, who gave similar presentations Thursday at Portland State University and Rogue Community College.

The program next year will offer a maximum of $3,200 for a four-year college and $2,600 for a community college or other two-year program, including vocational schools.

The amount given will depend on need; academic merit isn't a factor in the application.

Kulongoski met with a warm reception from students, many of whom raised their hands during a quick question-and-answer session at the end.

Senior Scott Reed asked the governor whether law-makers have considered using the state "kicker" - the rebate to taxpayers that kicks in if actual collections exceed state economists' projections by 2 percent or more - "to make our educations a little smoother. …