PathwayOregon a step in a good direction
Among lawmakers and University administrators alike, there is considerable disagreement over distribution of scholarship and financial aid money. Much of the argument is over whether the available money is best used on students who demonstrate the highest potential for achievement, or on those with the greatest need for financial support. In short, should universities focus on high grades, or low incomes?
University President Dave Frohnmayer started off 2008 with good news for Oregonians in the low-income bracket. On Jan. 2, Frohnmayer revealed a new, unique student aid program called PathwayOregon. Effective beginning in fall 2008, the Pathway program will support incoming freshmen from low-income families by paying for the costs of education that state and federal aid programs won’t cover.
In other words, a University freshman who qualifies for a Pell Grant or other form of financial aid but still has costs to pay can have them covered entirely under PathwayOregon. According to University estimates, 400 of the 2,300 incoming freshmen expected to enroll fall term will qualify for this aid. In some cases, the program will even cover students’ room and board.
The need for Oregon’s flagship university to reach cash strapped students was evidenced by a report from The Education Trust, an independent nonprofit organization formerly affiliated with the American Association for Higher Education. The report, published in 2006, examined all 50 states’ flagship schools and graded them based on their accessibility to minorities and students from low-income families. The University received an F in minority access and a D in low-income access, and was one of seven schools nationwide to receive an F overall.
Tuition at the University has risen steadily since 2000 – as much as 50 percent by some estimates. So it’s no wonder these two groups are bearing the brunt of rising costs. This is not a private school, where administrators pick and choose applicants at their whim. Whether prospective students can afford the costs of a public education is secondary to whether they can succeed given the proper chance.
The mission of any university in high enough standing to be considered a flagship school must be to provide a thorough and affordable education to those who have earned the opportunity to attend. As more students qualify for the Pathway program in the years to come, it may become necessary for the University to restructure some of its existing student aid programs. But due to the success of Campaign Oregon, which has already brought more than $600 million to the University, this change should be minimal. PathwayOregon will work effectively, albeit incrementally, toward reversing the University’s sub par levels of access to low-income and minority students. That President Frohnmayer and the University administration are now taking direct action to reverse this trend is evidence that, despite previous shortcomings, the University is committed to providing an affordable education to everyone who deserves it.