When Myesha Abdulrahman talked with her single mother about going to college, the two women’s thoughts turned to loans. Her mother was unemployed and her father was living in Atlanta. Abdulrahman had no way to pay for school, until she found out about the PathwayOregon program.
PathwayOregon, which began this academic year, will finish its second term providing Pell Grant-eligible University students with full tuition and fee funding just as the federal stimulus package begins to make the grants available to more students in Oregon.
The program pays for 415 Oregon residents to attend the University without taking out loans or paying tuition and fees. The students must accept a Pell Grant and any offered University scholarships, and the Pathway grant makes up the difference that isn’t covered. For 28 students who graduated high school with at least a 3.8 GPA and demonstrated significant financial need, Pathway also fully paid for four years of housing. The program is the brainchild of Linda Brady, former vice president and provost.
PathwayOregon coordinator Carla Bowers said the program is meant to target Oregon’s neediest students from the lowest-income families. The main objective is to get low-income students on a path to graduating in four years, a benchmark less than half currently meet.
Without the Pathway program, only 43 percent of Pell-eligible students who were freshmen in 2003-04 graduated from the University in four years, compared to 53.3 percent of their non-eligible counterparts.
Because the students must be eligible for the Pell Grant, the number of students in the Pathway program each year will depend on the number of eligible students in Oregon who apply, because there is no cap on the number allowed to participate in the program.
Elizabeth Bickford, director of financial aid at the University, said the number of students receiving Pell Grants will likely rise during the next two years because the stimulus package has increased funding for the program. It has not yet been announced how much Oregon will receive, but Bickford said it will be a noticeable increase.
Bickford said the need for the Pathway program will also increase because of the state of Oregon’s economy. “Our families are struggling … Pell Grants serve our neediest,” she said.
Older students who have lost their jobs and children of unemployed parents will both need aid in the coming year, Bickford said. And potential students from low-income families are looking at state schools instead of private, she said.
“Students are making decisions now more than ever based on cost,” she said.
Pathway is trying to help students with more than cost, however. Bowers said low-income students come to college with a unique set of needs. Forty-two percent of Pathway students are the first in their generation to attend college, and 1/3 are students of color. Both create challenges for students, Bowers said.
To meet those challenges, Pathway partners with the Counseling and Testing Center and Academic Learning Services to give students the help they need.
Abdulrahman, a freshman, found her academic help in Bowers. She had signed up for 16 credits during fall term and found herself struggling. Bowers encouraged her to drop Psychology 201 and helped her create a plan that involved summer school next year. It took the pressure off, Abdulrahman said, and made her feel comfortable about her decision.
She ended the term with a 3.0 GPA.
Although the Oregon State Legislature will likely cut higher education funding for the next two years, Bowers isn’t concerned about Pathway’s funding. It will receive money from private donors and the University has promised it will continue to support the program.
Bickford, Bowers and Abdulrahman all see the need for it. Abdulrahman talked of the relief she and her mother felt the day she received her Pathway grant.
“It was a big accomplishment we were both really excited for,” she said.