SOESD / Learning Matters / Newsletter Archive / March 2007 / Oregon Promise Scholarships
Oregon Promise Scholarships
By Steve Boyarsky, Superintendent
At our regional district superintendents’ meetings we have had ongoing discussions about how to encourage high school students to reach higher academic performance. It is difficult to motivate students to take state assessments seriously, as the rewards for doing well are hard to quantify. State assessments have several purposes, but primarily they are used to measure and report school system accountability. There aren’t enough incentives for many students to work harder and achieve more in school. A purple tassel on a graduation cap and a Certificate of Initial Mastery isn’t enough for most students to take an additional year of math so that they have a better opportunity to pass the math assessment.
Oregon University System conducted a study in 2003 that shows the high correlation between success on state assessments and grades in the first year of college. “The First Year: Student Performance on 10th Grade Benchmark Standards and Subsequent Performance on the First Year in College” (1) found that Oregon State Assessment tests at 10th grade could serve as clear, achievable goals needed for college success. Because the 10th grade assessments are aligned to standards at middle and elementary schools, educators can use these grade level goals to motivate and measure success that translates to college readiness. The students who participated in “The First Year” study did not know that these assessments might be linked to college success. The study goes on to say, “As performance on standards become more closely linked to next steps and advantages when applying to college, it is likely that student motivation to reach higher standards will increase.” Many states have developed scholarships based on student achievement. Some needs-based scholarships have been decreased to make money available for merit-based scholarships. I think this is the wrong approach. We should make college available to all qualified students irrespective of family finances.
What if all high school graduates in Southern Oregon, who meet or exceed state standards (reading, writing, math and science), are “promised” renewable scholarships which would cover college tuition for four years at one of Oregon’s state-supported colleges or universities? This money, although capped at community college tuition levels, could be used toward tuition costs at any Oregon supported college or university. Promise scholarships could also be combined with needs-based Oregon Student Assistance Commission scholarships to complete the “promise.”
I am concerned about the low number of American students who are studying in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. These can be challenging majors that require discipline and motivation to succeed. We need to provide incentives for students to pursue these fields. We are losing our preeminence in technical areas because we don’t have enough graduates to fill research and industry positions.(2) Our country has been fortunate to retain many foreign students who stay in the U.S. following their graduate degrees. The world is changing and jobs for STEM careers are now more available for graduates in other countries.
I worked one summer as part of a research team at Oak Ridge National Labs. There were six researchers, a few seasoned veteran scientists and some graduate students. Several days each week I had lunch with the graduate students. They all worked in some area of the biochemistry field. Many times the conversation centered around concerns about how they were going to afford to finish their doctoral degree or perhaps they should end their doctoral program and look for a position with their masters degree. Most foreign students had their university education paid for by the government of their citizenship and finances weren’t an issue. Is it any wonder why we can’t produce enough scientists to fill our research needs? What incentives can we provide to encourage students to major in STEM careers? What if Oregon made a “promise” to deserving high school graduates and allowed them to keep their scholarship with a slightly lower grade point average if their major was in science, mathematics, engineering or technology?
Goals of this “promise” would be to:
- Reward student achievement in high school.
- Decrease the need for remedial college classes.
- Increase enrollment and capacity of Oregon state-supported colleges.
- Provide incentives to keep high performing students in state.
- Increase Oregon’s economic viability with a highly trained workforce.
- Decrease the student loan burden of students and families.
- Encourage students in (STEM) classes.
It is time to provide economic incentives for student achievement. I believe we can accomplish the above goals by providing “promise scholarships” and need-based assistance for all high school graduates who demonstrate on state assessments that they have prepared themselves for college success.
(1) “The First Year: Student Performance on 10th Grade Benchmark Standards and Subsequent Performance on the First Year in College” http://www.ous.edu/dept/ir/reports/firstyear_10thgradebenchmark.pdf
(2) Tough Choices or Tough Times; The Report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, National Center of Education and the Economy. John Wiley & Sons, Inc, San Francisco, CA, 2007.