Bills to help students attain higher education sent to House

Mike Seals - March 3, 2021 10:25 pm

OKLAHOMA CITY – On Wednesday, the Senate approved two education bills to help enhance retention and graduation rates at Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities. Sen. Dewayne Pemberton is the author of Senate Bills 237 and 238 dealing with state and federal financial aid for students.

“One of the main reasons for students not pursing a college degree or for dropping out is because they simply can’t afford it,” said Pemberton, Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chair and Education Committee Vice Chair. “Currently, the Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grant (OTAG) is awarded directly by the State Regents to lower-income students on a ‘first-come, first-served’ basis without regard to other financial aid that person is receiving, including federal Pell Grants, Oklahoma’s Promise, Academic Scholars Program, Regional Baccalaureate Scholarship, tuition waivers, foundation scholarships or other scholarships. This is not an efficient use of these grant dollars, and Senate Bill 237 will ensure that those who most need this financial assistance will get it.”

Under SB 237, OTAG would be awarded directly by the participating institutions to lower-income students based on their overall financial need and other priority factors. The bill directs the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to determine award priorities based on enrollment status, unmet financial need, continuous enrollment, nearness to completion, state employment needs, eligibility for other financial aid, and availability of funding. It would also increase annual award amount ranges to –

  • $200-$1,500 at public community colleges, comparable private/independent two-year colleges and career technology centers,
  • $200-$2,000 at public and private/independent regional universities, and
  • $200-$3,000 at public and private/independent research universities.

SB 238 creates a 9-member taskforce to study possibly requiring each high school student to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) prior to graduation. The committee would include one member each from the House and Senate along with school district and higher education representatives. They would be required to submit their recommendations to the legislature by the end of the year. Rep. Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs, will carry the bill in the House.

“Too many young people are giving up on their dream of pursuing a college degree because they don’t think they can afford it, but they don’t realize there is financial assistance available,” Pemberton said. “If all students were to complete the FAFSA before graduating, I believe we’d see many more kids choose the path of higher education. This would not only positively impact their futures, but the state’s economy being that college graduates make significantly more over their lifetime than those with just a high school diploma.”

The measures will next be taken up in the House committee process.

For more information, contact:  Sen. Pemberton: (405) 521-5533 or [email protected]

 

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