Proposal: State pays for college now to avoid cost of prison, welfare later

      SALEM, Ore. - If you gradaute from high school, Oregon will pay for two years of community college.

      That's an Oregon state senator's proposal, which he believes will improve the lives of the next generation - and ultimately help the state financially.

      Senator Mark Hass, chairman of the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee, proposes the government cover the cost of community college tuition for Oregon residents.

      He said the cost of 4-year colleges is forcing students to make an impossible decision: either become strapped with debt for decades or elect to forgo your educational opportunity altogether.

      Both options are negatively impacting the population and state economy, he said.

      A preliminary study shows that if all 31,962 Oregon high school graduates chose to take advantage of this program and attend a community college, the state would dole out around $250 million dollars over the course of two years to pay for it.

      The actually figure would likely be less.

      "That's kind of the outer limit," said Bob Brew, executive director of the Oregon Student Access Commission. "So we know that even if we provide for every high school senior to go to college, not everyone would take advantage of that so that number is going to come down.

      Hass said even if the program costs $250 million over two years, it would save the state money in the long run.

      "We're talking about $6,000 per student," Hass said. "If you compare that to someone who doesn't pursue higher education or technical training, it's very likely, according to studies and research, that the person is going to be on some kind of subsidized social service system or even worse in the corrections system. That's what's expensive. It's not just two years. People on social service programs end up on these programs for a long time, and then their kids end up on them."

      Hass is continuing to work on finding viable sources of funding and set the framework for exactly who would qualify for the program.

      At this point, he believes including students with a GPA of 2.0 or higher would be a workable framework.

      Hass hopes to pass the bill in 2014 and see it implemented by 2015.