Among the most important bills passed during the 2014 Legislative Session is one that could open the door of educational opportunity for students from Woodburn and across the state.

House Bill 4116, the “Aspiration to College” bill, builds on a very successful program at Portland Community College that has an impressive track record of helping first generation college students and those from low income families.

The measure, which was signed into law March 11, will help these young people get over the hurdles that trip up too many of our students early in their higher education journey. It provides $750,000 that will be used by community colleges to increase enrollment among these underserved groups of students.

I’m a believer that students who have the drive, intellect and passion to succeed in college shouldn’t be held back because their family can’t afford it or simply because they are unfamiliar with the college environment.

The program at Portland Community College is called Future Connect. It provides two years of individualized academic advising, career-guidance classes and access to tutoring for low-income and first generation students.

It’s working well. Three times as many Future Connect students stay in school than those who don’t receive the services offered in the program.

House Bill 4116 will take what’s leading to student success in Portland and expand it to community college campuses across the state.

Oregon has established the goal of having 40 percent of adults with a bachelor’s or advanced degree, 40 percent with an associate degree or a meaningful postsecondary certificate, and for all adult Oregonians to hold a high school diploma or equivalent by the year 2025.

If we are going to achieve our “40-40-20” goal, we have to make education accessible to everyone. HB 4116 is just one of the bills we passed this year that takes steps to help get us there.

Another is Senate Bill 1524, which directs the Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) to examine the possibility of opening the doors of community college to high school graduates without requiring them to pay tuition or fees.

The concept for free community college, dubbed the “Oregon Promise,” would extend two years of free community college education to Oregon high school graduates.

Within that two-year time period, students could obtain an associate degree, a certificate of learning or earn credits that can transfer toward a bachelor’s degree at a four-year university.

If the HECC finds the concept feasible for implementation, the commission will propose criteria to the Oregon Legislature later this year for action during the 2015 session.

Another important education measure that became law following the 2014 session is House Bill 4117. It provides additional resources to school districts to create summer school programs in high poverty and low-performing schools.

Summer Learning Grants provides $500,000 for programs at up to 19 schools already identified by the Oregon Department of Education as “priority” and “focus” schools. It will give these struggling schools more resources to help students catch up during the summer.

One final education bill from the 2014 session that I want to mention is Senate Bill 1574. It will give students easier and earlier access to classes that count toward college by allowing high school freshmen and sophomores to pursue college credits.

The expansion of Oregon’s “dual credits” program will help more high school students realize that college is attainable and have the added benefit of helping them save money and plan for their educational future while they are at it.

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