For just over two years I have been privileged to serve as president of Washington State Community College. In that time I have worked hard to know the college and the community, and to better understand the impact of state politics on the success of this wonderful institution.
As one can guess, I sometimes experience a great sense of accomplishment, and there are other times that frustration grabs hold as I try to understand the circumstances, and to make them advantageous to our students.
However, one situation I cannot understand is why community college students in Ohio are not eligible for the state funded Ohio College Opportunity Grant (OCOG). This funding provides financial assistance to low-income students at state colleges and universities. The funding is also available to students attending private and for profit institutions. The only students who are not eligible to receive OCOG are students at Ohio's community colleges, including Washington State students!
Since 2009, the state has dramatically reduced OCOG funding from $385 million to $176 million. The funds that remain budgeted are distributed with nearly half allotted to fouryear public institutions, and half to non-profit private institutions. The remainder goes to students of private for-profit two and four-year institutions.
In 2009, the Ohio Board of Regents decided as a matter of policy that federal Pell Grants should cover tuition and general fees at all community colleges which resulted in the ineligibility for OCOG. The fact is, Pell simply is not enough. Prior to 2009, community college students were able to apply for a maximum of $2,500 from the state grant which greatly reduced the amount of debt at graduation. Sadly, community college students cannot presently access any of this state funding.
Students at WSCC wonder why they are not eligible for these funds. It would cost approximately $20 million to make available OCOG resources to community college students in the state. Community college presidents, including myself, and other advocates are encouraging state leaders to set aside some of an expected $400 million in Medicaid savings for increasing OCOG.
If available today, 1,386 WSCC students today could benefit from these funds which would help them to achieve their dreams, and decrease their academic debt. These students feel punished for choosing a high quality, low cost institution for attendance. It is ironic that the neediest of students are denied access to the OCOG simply because they have made a wise choice to stretch their higher education dollar and attend a community college like Washington State.
Community college students typically have different circumstances as they strive courageously to complete their education. They need and deserve OCOG. This situation, which has prompted national attention, is just not right, and must be changed.
Dr. Bradley J. Ebersole is president of Washington State Community College.