Senate bill wants to require Oklahoma’s Promise scholars who don’t graduate to pay back the state

Oklahoma Politics

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – There is a bill going through the Oklahoma legislature that would require students receiving the Oklahoma Promise Scholarship who don’t finish their degree to pay back the money the State spent on them.

The bill is raising eyebrows, but the bill’s author says the program’s degree completion rates are 4th lowest in the country and that this could push students to change that.

Opponents say it’s a deterrent to try for the scholarship at all.

“Honestly there was no way I was going to be able to send him to college so Oklahoma’s Promise was perfect. It was exactly what we needed,” said Jodie Fox.

The working, single mother says her son earned help from the state in the form of the scholarship set up for lower income families. Gavin went to OU to study computer science but dropped out after two years and joined the Air Force. Now 10 years out of high school, he is a contractor working for the military making a very good living.

“He would not be where he is today had he not had those two years,” said Fox.

But under the new Senate bill, Jodie’s son would be required to pay back the state his scholarship money because he didn’t finish his degree.

“When we make an investment into you, please understand that there is an obligation to the taxpayer,” said Sen. Adam Pugh.

The Republican from Edmond says his bill is looking to change the current 40% rate at which Oklahoma Promise students are earning their Bachelor’s degree in 4 years. 

Pugh says his bill also expands programs like career tech certificates that would not require payback if completed.

“The goal should be to give you a skill set not just a piece of paper,” said Pugh.

But opponents say the pay back is punitive and a deterrent to kids trying to get the scholarship in the first place.

“If they have a crisis in their life or there is a reason they can’t get thru school, do we want them to end up with that kind of burden? Let’s deal with trying to keep them in school rather than give them a punishment,” said Sen Julia Kirt of Oklahoma City.

But Pugh says scholarship payback is not a new idea.

“I had an ROTC scholarship and if I didn’t meet the requirements of my scholarship I would have had to pay it back and probably still serve. There is an obligation here when you take this investment,” said Pugh.

Pugh says he thinks part of the $72 million spent annually in the program should go towards setting up a support network for students.

He reminds people that the money paid back would go back into the trust so that others could use it for education. 

Right now, the bill has passed the Senate and it is waiting a house committee hearing before a vote there.

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