Improving college affordability is one of the key strategic goals of the Commission, and a critical factor in Oregon's ability to both meet our statewide attainment goals.
The HECC Office of Student Access and Completion administers Oregon's state financial aid programs supporting tens of thousands of students each year in affording their postsecondary education goals. The HECC also places state-level focus on sustained investment in Oregon's public colleges and universities to mitigate tuition increases for students. The agency develops and presents to the Legislature Oregon's comprehensive, integrated postsecondary education and workforce budget request linked to state goals; public institution operational funding as well as financial aid are a large component of that request. For information on the most recent state investment and legislation recently passed related to affordability, see the budget fact sheet and legislative summary here. In addition, recent state affordability strategies address not only tuition and financial aid, but also time to degree, efficiency in credit transfer, student success support, textbook affordability, and more, in recognition of the numerous interrelated factors that influence affordability for Oregonians.
For an overview presentation on postsecondary education affordability in Oregon, see the HECC 2021 Legislative Session presentation to the Joint Ways and Means Education Subcommittee on College Affordability, presented in Spring 2021.
Oregon's State Financial Aid Programs:
To apply for grants and scholarships: go to OregonStudentAid.gov.
While Oregon has made investments in financial aid in recent years through the Oregon Promise and the Oregon Opportunity Grant, Oregon students and families continue to face significant affordability challenges. HECC has recently advocated for expanding and improving the equitable design of Oregon's state financial aid programs, focusing on addressing Oregon’s affordability crisis by prioritizing those who are most vulnerable to increased costs.
Oregon Opportunity Grant (OOG)
HECC Office of Student Access and Completion (OSAC) administers the Oregon Opportunity Grant, Oregon’s longstanding need-based financial aid program serving the lowest-income Oregonians with grants toward postsecondary expenses. More than 30,000 students use the OOG to fund their postsecondary educations each year. The OOG supports low-income students, including recent high school graduates and adults, who attend eligible public and private Oregon colleges and universities. Policy developments:
- In 2021, the State increased the investment in the Oregon Opportunity Grant by 21.8 percent. This is expected to support approximately 11,000 additional grants to students this coming biennium. This investment also allows the program to support students with expected family contributions slightly over the federal Pell Grant eligibility level.
- In 2018, HECC increased the OOG award amounts, transforming awarding policy from lower flat award amounts, to higher differential amounts, covering a higher share of college costs.
- As a result of HECC-sponsored legislation in 2015, Oregon began prioritizing the highest-need students first.
The Oregon Promise, established through 2015 legislation, provides grants to support tuition at Oregon community colleges for recent high school graduates and GED® test graduates. The HECC first launched the Oregon Promise in 2016-17. The program serves over 10,000 students per year. As the second largest state funded financial aid program (after the OOG), it is a significant component of Oregon’s state financial aid investment. Policy developments:
- In 2019, HB 2910 expanded eligibility requirements for the Oregon Promise grant to support eligible individuals who complete their high school diploma or GED® while incarcerated or in custody.
Oregon National Guard State Tuition Assistance (ONG-STA) grant
In 2018, HECC launched the Oregon National Guard State Tuition Assistance (ONG-STA) grant pursuant to House Bill 4035 (2018). This grant program provides tuition funding for current eligible service members of the Oregon Army National Guard and the Oregon Air National Guard. Policy developments:
- In 2021, funding for the program increased to implement SB 101 (2021) which adjusted how student need is calculated to be more generous to low-income National Guard members.
In 2019, ONG-STA was expanded (HB 2817, 2019), allowing it to be used at Oregon Health and Science University and private non-profit institutions in addition to public institutions, and to be used for certificate programs, as well as associates or bachelor's degrees.
Other Public Grants:
OSAC also administers the Oregon Chafee Education and Training Grant, helping current or former foster care youth with postsecondary education and training, the Oregon Student Child Care Grant, assisting parents enrolled in postsecondary education, and more.
Other affordability-related innovations and initiatives:
- Efforts to streamline transfer are intended to save students time and money. In 2021, the Legislature supported funding and legislation to sustain and bolster the HECC’s work to improve transfer pathways from public community colleges to universities, including launching the development of a common course numbering system through SB 233 and the establishment of a central authority to resolve transfer and common course numbering policy issues. This builds on the work of House Bill 2998 (2017) which led to the development of the Oregon Transfer Compass.
- In 2021, the State passed HB 2835, supporting public institutions in employing benefits navigators on campuses. Benefits navigators are individuals who have a detailed understanding of eligibility requirements for benefits programs and how to apply to such programs. The navigators will assist students in applying for any assistance for which the student may be eligible.
- In 2021, the State passed SB 553 supporting tuition equity (eligibility to pay in-state instead of out-of-state tuition) and the ability to receive state financial aid for eligible students who are citizens of the Republic of Marshall Islands, the Federated State of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau who live in Oregon under the Compact of Free Association (COFA), or who are U.S. immigrants with Special Immigrant Visa status.
- In 2021, legislation was passed to add requirements for transparency of costs for course materials (HB 2919); modernize the information technology system used for state financial aid awards (FAMIS); and add new funding to expand the work of five college access and outreach programs that serve underserved populations, including the Commission’s own ASPIRE program.
- In addition, the Legislature in 2021 doubled the award amount for the Oregon Teacher Scholars Program, benefiting diverse teacher licensure candidates (HB 2166), and passed a bill to incentivize diverse and rural behavioral health providers through, potentially, a package that includes financial aid (HB 2949).
- HECC is successfully helping more Oregon high school seniors complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) through Oregon’s FAFSA Plus+ program and other targeted efforts.
- An increased focus on college completion recognizes that time-to-degree impacts student cost. In 2015-16, the HECC began implementing the Student Success and Completion Model, a new funding model for Oregon’s seven public universities, incentivizing investments that lead to increased degree completion.
- Oregon has supported continuing efforts to develop and market free textbooks and course materials (Open Educational Resources- OERs) for use in Oregon public colleges and universities since 2015. This state effort was spearheaded by the HECC in coordination with campus-lead OER activities, and supported by investments over multiple budget cycles. In 2019, House Bill 2213 expanded on textbook affordability by requiring public institutions to establish and adopt textbook affordability plans, and HECC received funding to continue developing the OER initiative.
- OSAC continues to partner with private foundations to administer over 600 private scholarships for Oregonians. Oregon students can explore and apply for these scholarships through one central website.
- OSAC provides information on their website regarding college affordability and financial aid resources for undocumented or DACA students. Oregon offers the Oregon Student Aid Application (ORSAA) as an alternative to the FAFSA for non-U.S. citizens who are ineligible for federal aid through the FAFSA.
- In 2019, the state passed Senate Bill 312, aimed to diminish affordability challenges for non-resident Native American or Alaska Native students by providing them with in-state tuition eligibility, given that they receive an Oregon high school diploma or complete grade 12 as a homeschool student or at a private or parochial school.