Manggala: Community college might be the better option
Earlier this month, the University of Oregon Board of Trustees approved a $945 tuition hike for all undergraduate students next year, meaning a 10.6 percent increase for in-state students and a 3 percent increase for out-of-state.
UO students have had just about enough with how the administration is handling its budget issues. Every year, students have felt the burden of reducing a debt that they didn’t ask for.
According to UO President Michael Schill, there are plenty of different routes students can take.
“I’m not saying it’s not hard, but there are choices,” Schill said. “Students can borrow money, they can ask their parents, they can work and ask for financial aid. The number of students who have no choice is actually low.”
If you are struggling to pay off your tuition, Schill said there is a way for you to make up for it, whether that means adding another job or increasing your student debt.
Claire Corbett, a sophomore dual-enrolled at Lane Community College and UO, took winter term off UO to work part-time and study full-time at LCC. Corbett did so because she didn’t have the choice to attend UO.
“There wasn’t another option for me,” Corbett said. “The loans I was offered weren’t enough to cover all three terms at UO. It was either go to community college and get my education paid for or don’t go to school at all.”
Corbett was a 3.9 GPA student in high school and believed if you work hard you will be rewarded. Corbett worked hard, but the only financial aid she was rewarded with was Oregon Promise.
Oregon Promise, which passed through legislation in 2015, is a state grant that covers most of the tuition at any community college in Oregon. This is an important step in ensuring students in Oregon have access to an education. Oregon promise requires students be Oregon residents with a 2.5 GPA in high school.
A similar program, Pathway Oregon, awards free college tuition to Oregon residents who graduated from high school with a 3.4 GPA and meet Pell eligibility determined by FAFSA. Unfortunately, Corbett falls short from that category, as her parents make over the salary threshold for Pell eligibility but don’t make enough to comfortably pay the rising cost of tuition.
Corbett saves about $5,000 a year by using her Oregon Promise scholarship, but attending part-time at UO has given her some benefits and advantages. Corbett was able to land a part-time job at a daycare through UO’s School of Education and has made the connections to compete in the school.
“I think UO has given me plenty of opportunities to succeed, but money isn’t one of them,” Corbett said. “If you’re struggling financially, I think community college is a great stepping stone in reducing your debt.”
Student debt lurks around every student’s mind when they take out loans. How much will I owe? Is it too much? How am I going to pay it off? It’s upsetting to think about being in debt without having a guaranteed career path, but President Schill believes that we shouldn’t be afraid of taking out loans.
“Higher education debt is the best debt possible. It’s about you. It’s capitalizing you to make more money so you’ll be able to pay it off eventually,” Schill said. “Right now, there’s this terrible reputation among young people that any debt is bad. The average debt at UO is around $25,000, that’s really not that bad.”
A $25,000 debt sounds easy for somebody who has a $660,000 salary. Schill would want students to do this rather than use alternative options, such as community college.
“The problem with community college is the likelihood they’re going to graduate is around 20 percent, whereas UO it’s around 70 percent,” Schill said. “I would hope students would stay here.”
Schill seems to believe in the age-old stigma that attending community college does not lead to success. It’s true there is a stigma, but not an accurate one. We were taught in high school that going to community college is like taking a step-down, but financially, you could get a few steps ahead.
Rebecca Murphy, a UO graduate, attended Portland Community College before attending UO where she studied sociology. Murphy believes that community college is a good substitution if necessary, and said that it helped her earn a degree at 20 years old.
“Going to a community college is not that different from taking classes at UO,” Murphy said. “The teachers are qualified and the courses are generally the same. And I saved my parents a lot more money than if I went to UO all four years.”
Community college shouldn’t be our first option, but right now, the state of Oregon is showing that it is actually the best option for those who can’t afford new tuition increases. We shouldn’t be afraid to step away from our comfort zone because, in the long-run, we might be thankful that we didn’t take that extra $10,000 of debt.