Oregon lawmakers consider free community college

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SALEM, Ore. — Oregon lawmakers are back with a new idea to make college more affordable, after earning national attention with last year's proposal to allow free university tuition that would be repaid with graduates' future earnings.

A Senate panel on Tuesday backed a measure ordering the state to study whether it's realistic to allow Oregon high school graduates to attend community colleges for free.

"If we get this right, I think we can unleash a tremendous amount of motivation within these young people, giving them the motivation to stay in school, to get a certificate, to achieve that additional learning that can make a difference in terms of their economic success," Gov. John Kitzhaber told the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee.

Senate Bill 1524 would order the Higher Education Coordinating Commission to study whether the idea is viable and report back by September. Lawmakers would use the findings to decide whether to pursue the idea during next year's legislative session.

Kitzhaber said the study must look at whether the concept is sustainable in the long term, can be applied equitably to all Oregonians, and will achieve the desired impact.

Rough estimates indicate the proposal would cost the state about $100 million to $200 million per two-year budget cycle if every Oregon high school graduate took advantage of it, said Sen. Mark Hass, a Beaverton Democrat who chairs the committee. Some would still go to four-year universities and others would finish their education after high school, Hass said.