Oregon Universities Seek to Submarine Free Community College Program

The popularity of the Oregon Promise irks the competition.

Khalid el-Hakim at PCC's Black History Month

Oregon's (almost) free community college program, the Oregon Promise, is causing some conflict between the state's community colleges and its public four-year colleges and universities.

Related: Oregon Becomes Second State to Offer Free Community College.

The Oregon Promise offers Oregon high school grads with a 2.5 or higher GPA a nearly free community college education.

Inside Higher Ed News today highlighted conflict between the two factions of Oregon's higher ed system in a year when lawmakers are facing a $1.8 billion gap between what they'd like to spend and available cash.

The Oregon Promise appears to be depriving the four-year institution of paying customers at a time—6,745 students got free tuition through the Oregon Promise this year—when they badly need them.

Here's the heart of the issue:

"Enrollment of Oregon's high school graduates in the state's public universities declined slightly in 2016 compared to recent years — 17.6 percent of Oregon high school students who graduated last year enrolled in one of the universities this past fall, compared to 18.3 percent in 2015 and 18 percent in 2014," Inside Higher Ed reporter Ashley Smith writes.

Lawmakers are will have to decide how to allocate money between community colleges and four-year institutions in a year when neither group will get anything close to what they want and both will lobby for scarce dollars.

"The Promise program in Oregon is accomplishing its purpose in increasing enrollment in higher education," Morley Winograd, president and chief executive officer of the Campaign for Free College Tuition told Higher Ed News. "It isn't criticism, but a grab for the money. That's the fight there, and we'll see it in every state as four-year colleges and universities will say, 'Send the money to us.'"

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