OSU free tuition plan a big hit

Some 2,400 eligible students will see their education costs reduced significantly with OSU's Bridge to Success Program.

Some 2,400 eligible students will see their education costs reduced significantly with OSU's Bridge to Success Program.

When Oregon State University financial aid and admissions officials announced the Bridge to Success Program last spring, it was envisioned as the largest, most expansive effort at an Oregon higher education institution to make a college education available to residents of this state, serving as many as 1,500 students in its debut this fall.

But even the most optimistic of planners couldn’t have imagined just how well the program would be received.

With fall classes due to start at the end of the month, OSU officials have approved awards for some 2,400 students, every one of whom qualifies for free tuition and fees; about half of those students also qualify for assistance with books and supplies.

While not every student who received an approved award will actually enroll at OSU, those who do will enjoy a virtually cost-free university education, said Kate Peterson, assistant provost for enrollment management and one of the creators of the program.

“With the costs of higher education climbing ever higher, the Bridge to Success Program promises to have a significant impact for Oregon students and for the state as a whole,” said Peterson. “When we address the financial barriers that prevent some individuals from seeking a college degree, we begin to realize the promise of higher education for us all.”

Support for the Bridge to Success Program comes from four sources: the federal Pell Grant, the state-funded Oregon Opportunity Grant, private funds raised in support of the Campaign for OSU and operating funds that the university has redirected toward this program.

Thanks to the multiple sources, there are adequate grant funds to cover tuition and fees for all students who have been approved for awards, even though the number is much greater than was originally anticipated.

While awards are based on financial need, students must be able to show satisfactory progress toward completion of degrees, including taking at least 15 credits each term, to continue receiving funds. But the potential payoff is the chance to earn four-year degree largely cost free and to graduate without a crushing burden of student loan debt that could make the years immediately after college challenging, indeed.

Other universities in Oregon and nationally have undertaken similar efforts in recent years, but OSU’s is notably larger than any in this state. A program announced last year at the University of Oregon, for instance, is expected to serve about 400 students this fall.

Peterson and OSU Financial Aid Director Emilio Vejil say the Bridge to Success Program could be a model for other universities attempting to tackle issues of access for financially vulnerable students.

“As Oregon’s land grant university, it is our mission to ensure that the sons and daughters of this state have access to a premier college education, and the Bridge to Success Program will help us fulfill that promise for worthy students with significant financial need,” said OSU President Ed Ray in launching the program last spring. “We’re pleased to be able to do this, especially at a time when the cost of earning a university education is increasingly difficult for many students to afford.”

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