Others Say 2/14/14 ::1

State’s free tuition plan would ignore need to fix K-12

This year it’s the Oregon Promise; last year it was Pay It Forward.

In both, Oregon legislators have feel-good discussions about making college free for students, with little focus on how taxpayers would pay the bills.

In both, they ask for studies to explore the concept.

In both, they ignore the fact that the state struggles to support its K-12 system, which sends a significant percentage of students to college needing remedial classes.

The Oregon Promise would give those with an Oregon high school diploma or equivalent two free years at community college, with an estimated cost of $100 million to $200 million per biennium. Senate Bill 1524 would direct the Higher Education Coordinating Commission to study the idea’s “viability” and report back by Sept. 30. On Thursday, the Senate passed the bill unanimously.

During a Tuesday hearing before the Senate Committee on Education and Workforce Development, proponents cited sky-high student debt, the governor’s 40-40-20 goals, and the plight of so-called Opportunity Youth who are disconnected from school and work. Lumping those issues together as justification for free tuition ignores their disparate causes and likely solutions.

Opportunity Youth were described as those ages 16-24 who are neither in school nor working, or those with some schooling and work but no college or stable job. Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, commented that “two years of tuition at college is much cheaper than a lifetime of food stamps.”

True but irrelevant, given that free tuition doesn’t come close to addressing those youths’ needs.

We appreciate suggestions from several speakers to establish limits, such as minimum high school grade-point averages, or requirements that students earn good grades before getting taxpayer reimbursement for college tuition.

Still, of all the ways to spend millions of taxpayer dollars, this one doesn’t measure up. Far better to fix K-12 so students graduate work or college-ready, to support early childhood programs for disadvantaged kids, and to focus on more targeted programs for Opportunity Youth.

— The Bulletin


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