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OK House Wants to Change OHLAP Income Limits

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Undated_ It's called Oklahoma's Promise, and it's helped thousands of students go to college. However, the number of kids who qualify for that promise could shrink significantly.

Monday, after a heated debate, the House approved a bill that would lower the income cap for families who qualify. It pays for tuition at a 2-year or 4-year public college or university in Oklahoma.

Right now, a student's total family income must be at or below $50,000 when they apply, which can be as early as 8th grade.  By the time they enter college, the family income cannot be higher than $100,000. This new bill would reduce that college entry-level income cap to $60,000

It would take effect in the Fall of 2014. However, this change wouldn't affect to anyone already attending college and in the program; it would only affect incoming college freshmen for that year and the years after. 

Cassidy Morgan is an aspiring sports broadcaster. He said the Oklahoma Promise program has given him the opportunity to attend Cameron University to pursue his dream.

"It's putting less of a burden on me and my parents to pay," Morgan said.

He said he was motivated to go to college even if he had to take out loans, but that's not the case for some students.

"If they're like me and know that it's going to be a burden financially, they may not be as obligated to go or want to go," Morgan said.

Morgan graduated from Comanche High School in 2009. Last year, the school had almost 25% of its graduates use the program, and Principal Steven Dunham said he would hate to see fewer of those opportunities available.

"I understand there's only so much money to go around," Dunham said. "I hate for it to be on the backs of high school students and their parents that want to go to college."

Students have to apply between 8th and 10th grade and meet criteria, so Dunham said this program also gives some borderline students a clear direction.

"Make grades, take specific classes," Dunham said. "It's a good incentive for them."

A lot of people are saying this legislation goes directly against Governor Fallin's goal for our state to produce more college grads. The author said that's actually all wrong; her bill goes hand in hand with that goal.

She said there are a limited number of applicants to the program, and her bill would ensure availability for low income students. In a statement, she writes lawmakers arguing against her are "actually arguing to take scholarships from low income families and give it to families who can afford to send their children to college."

Opponents say those in favor simply want to save some of the $60M it takes to run the program, so they can move forward with $120M tax cuts.

Either way, Cassidy Morgan is thankful for the program for paying his tuition.

"I didn't have to worry about that," Morgan said. "So, I could worry more on what I wanted to do with my life."

Legislation was passed in 2007 to increase the income cap to $100,000, in order to protect families that experience life changes in the years between enrollment and going to college. Early numbers predict there would be about 500 kids per year that would qualify now, but not if this is signed into law.

All of our local house members voted in favor of the bill, except Joe Dorman of Rush Springs. He said the legislation sends the message that lawmakers aren't willing to invest in middle-class students who want to go to college.

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