In the final days of the session, Oregon legislators passed a bill that could make it easier for some students — including many right here in the Western Treasure Valley — to continue their education after high school.

If Gov. Kate Brown signs it, Senate Bill 81 would offer an incentive to students who qualify for federal financial aid to apply for Pell Grants: If students receive federal grants for community college, the state will pay the balance of their tuition.

It’s no secret that would-be college students aren’t using the federal financial aid available to them. Edvisors.com, a resource designed to help people figure out how to pay for college, estimates more than a million students who could qualify for a federal Pell Grant don’t, simply because they fail to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Edvisors reports that 95.9 percent of Pell Grant recipients in 2011-12 had a family adjusted gross income of less than $60,000. In Malheur County in 2010, the average adjusted gross income of non-migrant taxpayers was $38,825, according to City-Data.com.

Many students in our backyard could benefit from Pell Grants, and Oregon’s community college plan could give those students an extra incentive to apply for financial aid.

The plan also fits well with Malheur County’s Poverty to Prosperity initiative, which aims to boost career and technical education in a partnership between Treasure Valley Community College and the Ontario, Nyssa and Vale school districts.

Of course, the state aid doesn’t come completely free.

Recipients would have to have lived in Oregon for 12 months.

They would have to begin community college coursework within six months of graduating high school or earning a GED.

They’d have to take courses required for graduation, and they’d have to maintain a 2.5 grade-point average.

Students also would have to pay $50 per term.

If Brown approves the program, it would begin in 2016, and expenditures would not exceed $10 million a year. That might seem like a lot, but we like what Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, told the Legislature, as quoted in a recent Willamette Week story: “A lifetime of food stamps is much more expensive than the annual community college tuition of $3,000.”

The key, of course, will be making students aware of this opportunity and working with them starting early in high school. It will take work on the part of our school counselors; there are families here with generations who have never gone to college.

College isn’t for everyone, but it could be an option for more students than currently realize it. For a couple hundred bucks and a slightly better than C average, a qualifying person could earn an associate’s degree.

It seems like a good deal to us.

Our view is based on the consensus opinions of the Argus Observer editorial board. Members of the board are publisher John Dillon, editor Kristi Albertson, assistant editor Leslie Thompson and community members Bob Barowsky and Cliff Looney.

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