OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A state senator said Thursday he plans to introduce legislation next year that would pay two years of tuition for high school graduates to attend Oklahoma colleges and universities.
It will be the second consecutive year that Sen. Kenneth Corn, D-Poteau, will pursue legislation known as the Second Century Promise Act. The measure passed the Senate last year but was not heard in the House.
In addition to his bill, Corn said he will also file a legislative referendum to place the proposal on the ballot for Oklahoma voters to consider.
“If the Legislature doesn’t want to do this, let’s send it to a vote of the people,” Corn said. “An education is a right, not a privilege. We have an opportunity to make a critical investment in our future, and provide hope to many students.”
Corn said the measure would enable students ineligible for scholarships under the state’s Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program to obtain scholarships for the first two years of college.
It would be open to any graduating senior who has completed college preparatory course work and maintained a 2.0 grade-point average whose family makes less than $50,000 in taxable income, he said. The existing OHLAP program requires graduating high school students to have a 2.5 GPA.
Qualifying students would have to maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA during their first two years of college and perform community service as a commitment to the state, Corn said.
Under the proposal, 75 percent of the state’s 35,000 high school graduates each year would qualify for two-year scholarships, Corn said. The program would cost $13 million in the first year and $25 million during the second year.
About 40 percent of graduating seniors are potentially eligible for an OHLAP scholarship but only about 20 percent enroll, said Bryce Fair, the associate vice chancellor for scholarships and grants for the State Regents for Higher Education.
Corn said one of the greatest impediments to economic growth in the state is a lack of college graduates.
“Business leaders are telling us they need a work force with skills,” Corn said.
He said a recent report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education gave Oklahoma a failing grade on affordability and that far too many Oklahoma families are unable to afford college tuition.
“Most Oklahomans need the help,” Corn said. “The wealthy can afford. This helps the working-class families.”
He said similar legislation adopted in North Carolina has been successful.
“This proposal would provide hope to those who want our state to be an attractive destination for business and industry, in addition to many Oklahoma students who might not otherwise have the opportunity to achieve their dream of a higher education,” Corn said.