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State budget woes means new income restrictions will limit financial aid in popular program

PMG FILE PHOTO - Not only is community college online this year, but Oregon Promise scholarships are less available to students.

The Oregon Promise is looking a little less promising this year.

The state program originally was started to pay tuition to community colleges for most recent high school and GED graduates, regardless of income.

But this year, income restrictions have been imposed on families for the grants. About 1,000 students were told they were getting the grants and later, informed they wouldn't get them after all. In the five years of the program, income restrictions were instituted once before.

Blame it on state budget cuts. The Oregon Legislature reduced the Oregon Promise budget by $3.6 million on Aug. 10, according to the state's Higher Education Coordinating Commission.

"The Oregon Legislature had to make difficult decisions in August as a result of the state budget shortfall, and the Oregon Promise Grant was one of the many state programs that had to implement immediate cuts," Juan Baez-Arevalo, director of the office of student access and completion for Oregon's Higher Education Coordinating Commission explained in a statement.

"We applied these cuts by prioritizing those with the most financial need, and it is unfortunate that we had to revoke grants for any Oregon students and families so close to the 2020 fall term beginning. We encourage the students impacted by these cuts to continue in their college goals, and to contact their institution's financial aid offices to discuss their options," he added.

"We were able to maintain awards to 15,000 students," Endi Hartigan, director of communications for HECC, said.

Those 15,000 grants will go to students from lower-income families. The Oregon Promise is a grant, not a loan, and does not have to be repaid.

In the world of college finance, financial aid is based on complicated formulas determined by family income, expenses, family and student savings, number of children, how many are in college at one time and other factors. After considering all these items, the college or government will spit out an "estimated family contribution" or what it thinks the family should be able to pay for that year of college.

The current EFC for Oregon Promise is $22,000, which very roughly translates to a family income of around $121,000. Recent high school graduates or GED earners would likely come from families with lower incomes to qualify for the Oregon Promise grants.

The Oregon Promise grants range from $1,000 to $4,005 per year. Even if a student receives the largest grant, it only pays for part of community college. Clackamas Community College charges roughly $5,330 for tuition and fees for a full-time student, Portland Community College around $4,800. That doesn't include books, supplies and other possible expenses like rent or babysitters.

The Oregon Promise is just one of many similar programs across the country. Some pay for all or part of four years of a public education.

To qualify for an Oregon Promise grant, graduating high school seniors must have a 2.5 or higher grade point average and have lived in Oregon for at least one year, among a few restrictions.

Hartigan points out that there may be other forms of financial aid available to students and they should reach out to financial aid counselors at their college or university.

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