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Oregon Legislature Approves Free Community College Legislation

Saturday, July 04, 2015


Mark Hass

Oregon State Senator Mark Hass made universal access to community colleges his signature legislative goal for the 2015 session. His historic campaign to expand access to higher education passed the Oregon Legislature this week by overwhelming margins in both ends of the Capitol.

The final vote for SB81 in the Oregon Senate was an astonishing 28-1. The bill passed 48-12 in the Oregon House of Representatives. The bill to waive community college tuition is headed to Governor Kate Brown and is expected to become law in time for the 2016-17 academic year.

SB 81 waives community college tuition for high school graduates with fewer than 90 quarter hours at a postsecondary institution. Participating students must accept any available grants and pay $50 per course while enrolled full-time.

“This opportunity offers young people a path to the middle class,” said Hass. “Without training or education out of high school there is only one path — one that leads to poverty. This is game changing legislation that elevates our economy, creates tens of thousands of new jobs and improves the lives of Oregonians,” said Hass. “Nearly everyone can attend classes, develop new skills and seek out new opportunities. Oregon is a national model for access to community colleges.”

“This is the single greatest accomplishment to come out of Salem this year,” said Nathan Officer, a Portland business professional who suspended his coursework at Portland Community College to avoid sliding into debt. “Throughout Europe, college tuition is paid by the government, not students,” said Officer. “Universal access to higher education makes us more competitive in a global economy. We should have done this years ago.”

Mark Hass (left), Obama and Nike CEO Mark Parker (right)

“Some of us remember a time when young people could walk out of high school and into a timber mill and be set for life,” said Republican Representative Mark Johnson.  “Those days are gone which is why we need a new approach.”

“This is great public policy,” said Washington D.C. based attorney Mark salvo, a graduate of the University of Oregon. “As an activist for higher education, I am blown away by what Mark Hass and his colleagues accomplished. This is a landmark achievement that promises to transform Oregon, creating thousands of new jobs and opportunities.”

“Passing this legislation is certainly a triumph, but I am more impressed with the bipartisan coalition they assembled to make it happen,” said former Washington County Public Affairs Forum Chairman Eric Squires. “Democrats and Republicans came together in a spirit of innovation and cooperation. They set aside partisan differences and proactively steered Oregon toward a brighter future.”

President Obama promoted universal access to community colleges earlier this year but his legislative proposal stalled in the House of Representatives for lack of bipartisan support. “I discussed universal access to community colleges with President Obama when he visited the Nike campus in Beaverton last May to stump for fast-track authorization of the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” said Hass. “The President championed our bill and praised our commitment to students. Obama told me he believed our campaign would inspire other states to expand access to college and asked me to keep him posted on our progress. He emphasized this was an important national discussion.”

“Outstanding tuition debt is burying this country and stalling our economy,” said former Polk County Democratic Chair Wanda Davis. “We need to start investing in our future by educating the people who will be running our state when it is their turn. By educating students without saddling them with crippling debt before they can even get started, we are avoiding some of those future hazards that we would actually see if we would look 20 years out instead of just the next year or two. Plus, we would be giving them the tools they need to become successful, contributing members of society. It’s a win all the way around.”

“Waiving college tuition is a fantastic idea,” said Parkrose High School freshman Jazmen Hallanger. “A lot of people my age do not even consider college because it is so expensive. Thousands of Oregonians will now take a different path in life. If I ever meet Senator Mark Hass, I will shake his hand and thank him.”


Related Slideshow: Greenest Colleges in the Pacific Northwest

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Washington State University

Pullman, Washington

Enrollment: 23,070

From the moment you arrive on the campus of Washington State, you sense that the university is a “tight-knit community.” In turn, this helps to foster a “friendly atmosphere” and “great spirit,” both of which permeate the school. 

Photo courtesy of Washington State University website.

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University of Puget Sound

Tacoma, Washington 

Enrollment: 2,541

The University of Puget Sound is “the ideal learning environment with plenty of opportunity for both academic and personal growth.” Students are encouraged to “branch out and go beyond their comfort zone in class and outside of class.”

Photo Courtesy of Puget Sound Website 

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Oregon State University

Corvallis, Oregon

Enrollment: 23,161

Oregon State University is a spirited, science-driven school, says a bioengineering major. Students at OSU enjoy the "exceptional 'green living' education" on campus.

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University of Washington

Seattle, Washington

Enrollment: 29,754

Ranked the 15th best university in the world*, the UW is home to a renowned medical center and top-ranked programs in medicine, engineering, nursing, law, business and social work. 

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Willamette University

Salem, Oregon

Enrollment: 2,375

Traditional academics are strong at Willamette, but perhaps what stands out most is that “learning opportunities outside of the classroom are endless.” 

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Portland State University

Portland, Oregon

Enrollment: 23,170

Portland State University’s motto is “let knowledge serve the city,” and students echo this philosophy, saying their school “has a strong focus on civic engagement and sustainability.”

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Lewis & Clark 

Portland, Oregon

Enrollment: 2,179

On a stunning campus in one of the most exciting and progressive cities anywhere, the next generation of global thinkers gathers to discard conventional thinking, civic complacency, and outmoded preconceptions.


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