Oregon Opportunity Grant changing next year

Sarah Weaver News Reporter

Eligibility requirements different next year

In addition to attending school full time, sophomore digital communication arts major Emmy Markham works 10 hours a week, lives off-campus, and pays for her rent, groceries, utilities and other expenses completely out of pocket.

While this is not an unusual situation among Oregon State University students, Markham also relies on the Oregon Opportunity Grant to continue being able to afford tuition and other fees, but her and many students like her may be losing their funding in the near future.

After the state of Oregon changed its eligibility requirements for the grant, around 2,500 OSU students will lose their funding from the Oregon Opportunity Grant for the 2016-2017 academic year, according to Sherm Bloomer, the OSU director of budget and fiscal planning, in an article published by the Daily Barometer on April 1, titled “Increase Approved.”

In the same article, Bloomer said 1,200 students who had otherwise not gotten the grant will be receiving funding come next fall.

According to the Oregon Office of Student Access and Completion (OSAC), money from the Oregon Opportunity Grant will be awarded based on financial need. While the grant was already need based, the OSAC stated on their website that funding from the Oregon Opportunity Grant will be “awarded first to students with the greatest financial need.”

OSAC also stated that this change was due to the passing of House Bill 2407A, which called to change the eligibility requirements for students that receive the Oregon Opportunity Grant.

According to the OSAC, students can receive up to $2,250 per year in funding from the Oregon Opportunity Grant and and would make them eligible to gain funding from the state for other grants such as the Bridge to Success Grant.

Markham receives around $2,100 a year from the Oregon Opportunity Grant. With an estimated family contribution of $60, she is worried that she may be one of the thousands of students to lose her funding.

In addition to the grant, Markham has subsidized, unsubsidized and Perkins loans to pay for school. She also has a job at the OSU video game lab.

Markham receives a financial aid refund every term and puts it towards paying her loans.

“I’m constantly paying but I’m still $7,000 deep right now and that’s still going to grow and increase as I continue my education,” Markham said

The $700 given to Markham each term by the Oregon Opportunity Grant helps pay for her tuition.

“I have a $10,000 tuition and that’s just for the College of Liberal Arts. (The Oregon Opportunity Grant) pays for everything I do on campus,” Markham said.

Markham is not alone, senior merchandising management major, Makenzie Gerbracht has received the Oregon Opportunity Grant throughout her four years at OSU and knows just how important it is to some students.

Gerbracht has received around $2,000 a year from the Oregon Opportunity Grant and like Markham, uses the $500-$600 she has received per term to pay her tuition for the College of Business.

“I never see a penny of it. It automatically pays for part of my tuition,” Gerbracht said.

The Oregon Opportunity Grant is the only grant that Gerbracht has received, however, like many students, she was able to take out loans.

With Gerbracht and students in her situation, the word “opportunity” rings true.

“Without my loans or the grant, I wouldn’t have been able to go to college,” Gerbracht said.

The OSU Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships has been aware of this since late summer to early fall, according to Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships Director Doug Severs.

Students were not made aware of the change in eligibility by the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships because the office is still in the process of gathering information from the OSAC and getting funds ready to assist students, Severs said.

Severs also stated that the school will be assisting students who will have lost their Oregon Opportunity Grant funding, but the OSAC will not let the school grandfather funds for students who would have kept their funding if the eligibility requirements had remained unchanged.

According to Severs, students who receive the Bridge to Success Grant will receive matching funds from the university.

“If a student was Pell Grant eligible and eligible for the Oregon Opportunity Grant and met our deadline, we were matching and allowing that, to pay tuition with those three things,” Severs said “so, now that these students are not eligible for the Oregon Opportunity Grant, we’re going to go ahead and continue to match that money.”

Additionally, $1.7 million from the $106 million OSU received from the state of Oregon earlier this year will be allocated towards need-based financial aid, Severs said.

Students can come into the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships to see what their options are for paying for college, including submitting forms for the Tuition Assistance Fund that was enacted by President Ray and Provost Randhawa after the tuition plateau ended last year, according to Severs.

“They can come work with us and review financial aid packages,” Severs said.

Sophomore agricultural sciences major Amanda Serven is another recipient of the Oregon Opportunity Grant and knows just how much the grant means to students.

Serven lost two grants last year: one federal and one from the school. In total, she lost $7,000.

“My mom basically made $50 too much,” Serven said.

However, the funding Serven has received from the Oregon Opportunity Grant allowed her to continue her education.

“It made it possible for me to go back to school,” Serven said.

Serven has used the grant funding she has received over the past two years, $2,000 and $2,100 respectively, to pay for her tuition.

“Honestly, it all just goes back to OSU,” Serven said.

Serven thinks that she will receive the grant again but is concerned about the cost of her tuition in light of the increase that was approved in late March.

“It’s just so expensive now that the (tuition) freeze is over,“ Serven said, “I don’t want to pay for new buildings, I want to pay for my education.”

In previous years, funds from the Oregon Opportunity Grant were doled out on a first come, first serve basis, according to ASOSU Graduate Affairs Task Force Director Jeffery Baxter.

Baxter said that due to the first come, first serve basis, more students filled out the FAFSA and they tended to do it closer to the deadline.

Assistant Provost of Enrollment Management Kate Peterson stated there are options for students who need financial assistance from the university, such as writing appeals to the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships, and informing them of changes in financial circumstances.

“We don’t have enough institutional funding to replace all of the Oregon Opportunity Grant funding, but

According to Peterson, in addition to the tuition assistance fund there will be two more assistance funds from university donors.

“We want to minimize the impact as much as we can,” Peterson said.

Peterson empathizes with the financial struggles students are facing. As a parent, she had to work to put her children through school, sometimes with more than one in college at the same time. Prior to her being a parent, she saw her parents overcome financial adversities to put her and her siblings through school.

Peterson and Severs said that students will find out about the status of their Oregon Opportunity Grant funding sometime at the end of this week through emails directly from OSAC and when OSU starts sending students their financial aid offers for the 2016-2017 school year.

Freshman pre-public health major Rachel Becker received $2100 from the Oregon Opportunity Grant prior to her arrival at OSU last fall. Becker said that the grant money helps pay for her tuition for OSU which is something she pays for almost completely out of pocket.

“My parents help when they can, but that majority of it is money that I’ve saved up since my freshman year of high school,” Becker said.

Becker is dual-enrolled at OSU and Linn-Benton Community College and is taking eight credits at each institution. Her funding from the Oregon Opportunity Grant has still lessened Becker’s financial burdens.

“Since my cost here is so low because of all of my financial aid goes to OSU, paying for Linn-Benton is easier,” Becker said.

During the summers, Becker works two minimum wage jobs to pay for school, one as a receptionist and the other as a nanny.

Despite the possible loss of her funding, Becker understands the positive impact the change in eligibility requirements will have on so many students at OSU.

“(Losing grant funding) will definitely suck and my parents are going to have to pay more out of pocket, but if that’s going to people who need it more than I do, that’s fine because everyone deserves to go to college,” Becker said.

[email protected]