Oklahoma State Senate passes bills to help students stay in college and graduate

Oklahoma Politics

Source: MGN Online

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma State Senate passed two bills designed to help improve retention and graduation rates at Oklahoma public colleges and universities.

The two bills, Senate Bills 237 and 238, were both written by Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, according to a State Senate news release.

“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.”

SB 237 directs participating institutions to award Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grants directly to lower-income students based on their overall financial need and other priority factors.

The bill also directs the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to base award priorities on enrollment status, unmet financial need, continuous enrollment, nearness to completion, state employment needs, eligibility for other financial aid and availability of funding, according to the news release.

It also increases annual award amount ranges to the following:

  • $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, if passed, would lead to the creation of a nine-member taskforce tasked with investigating the possibility of requiring each high school student to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) prior to graduation.

The committee would be comprised of one member from the State House and one from the State 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, according to the news release.

“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 heard in a House committee process.

Rep. Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs, will carry the bill in the House.

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