Are Free Community Colleges Coming to Oregon?

Lawmakers out of Oregon are considering a proposal that could possibly allow the state’s residents to attend community college for free. The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) was contracted at the request of the Oregon Legislature to draft a proposal.

The proposal is projected to cost the state anywhere from $10 million to $250 million a year.

According to Patrick Kelly, senior associate at NCHEMS, there are different definitions for what “free” community college actually means to students.

Kelly says, “We recognize from our work around the country that tuition and fees isn’t the only consideration of many community college students; it’s other costs as well.” He goes on to say, “In many cases, the total cost of attendance can be at least three to four times as much as tuition and fees. If you look at it from a standpoint of affordability, for many students it’s beyond tuition and fees.”

The breakdown of the projected cost of the proposal sheds a bit more light on the situation and answers the questions of what the money will go to within the given range of cost. The higher ended figure of $250 million will go to full room and board, everyone will be included and there will be little to no restrictions on anything. In comparison, the $10 million program will cover significantly less and is a much more scaled down version.

The vast difference in price is causing a disagreement among the key decision makers with many questioning whether or not the costs of other education expenses in excess of tuition and fees should be added into the program or not.

Phoebe Gresser, a student at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, says “I think that more students would be able to take advantage of this opportunity if room and board is also covered under this bill.”

Another pressing point that critics are pondering over is  if the proposal is only to cover the tuition and fees then the majority of students that will benefit from it is going to be directed towards students that are in the middle class. Pell Grants cover some expenses for students that are in lower income brackets as it is, so they won’t be able to really benefit from this proposal if room and board are not covered.

As of now the proposal for a free community college education is in limbo until the Oregon Legislature makes a decision.

Winer, C. (2014, September 19). Free community college: Coming soon to Oregon? Retrieved September 22, 2014, from

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