Tuition-Free Community College
The new academic year in Oregon started with a more positive picture for higher education funding, though still below needs. In 2016-17—the first year of the Oregon Promise which provides grants to eligible students so that they can attend community college tuition free–$12 million was allocated, an amount that proved insufficient considering the high demand. For the 2017-19 biennium, funding has increased by $28 million to $40 million and additional eligibility criteria were established: if the student’s expected family contribution is above $18,000, those students are not eligible to apply. Despite this significant increase and the new eligibility restrictions, the funding is $8 million short for the projected cost.
Credit for Courses
Two important bills were passed during the legislative session, both of which relate to college access and affordability for Oregon students:
SB 207: AP Credit
Background information: In May 2016, Oregon students took a total of 19,217 AP Exams; approximately 63% of these students scored 3 or higher in at least one exam. Providing college credit to high school students who have earned a score of at least 3 provides significant savings: “Based on an average rate of $323.10 per credit hour for tuition at Oregon four-year public institutions, the total potential college cost savings estimate for Oregon students and families is $18,627,038.”
The bill “requires public institutions of higher education to award credit for grade of three, four or five received on advanced placement (AP) exam unless institution notifies Higher Education Coordinating Commission that institution considers grade of higher than three on identified exams to be necessary to receive credit”
This bill, however, has not been without controversy: “The Oregon Statewide Provosts Council does not support SB 207 and believes that academic quality decisions belong to the faculty, in compliance with NWCCU accreditation standards, and in support of Oregon students.” https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2017R1/Downloads/CommitteeMeetingDocument/125829
HB 2998: Transfer of credits between community colleges and public universities (aka as the Transfer Bill of Rights)
Approximately half of Oregon’s public university students in recent years transferred from an Oregon community college, a percentage likely to increase given the popularity of the Oregon Promise. However, only 62% of transfer students complete their degree within 6 years. This bill aims at ensuring that students can transfer credits across public institutions for timely graduation. Currently, there are some agreements between institutions for transferring of credit (AAOT, OTM); however, students still lose credits in the process.
The bill requires that all public universities and community colleges establish a foundational curriculum of 30 credits (minimum) “ with the purpose of maximizing credits toward their degrees and certificates, and decreasing time-to-degree completion” and will develop in unified statewide transfer agreements (USTAs) that will not result in loss of academic credit.
Currently, a Transfer Workgroup with members from the public university and community college faculty, administration, registration has been convened to complete the bill’s mandate.