By Abby Spegman

The Bulletin

Students who are undocumented immigrants will have more options this year when it comes to paying for college in Oregon, including a new state grant designed to cover the cost of community college.

In 2015 lawmakers included undocumented students among those eligible for Oregon Promise grants, which will be offered for the first time this fall. To qualify, students must have graduated from an Oregon high school this year with at least a 2.5 GPA, enroll at an Oregon community college within six months of graduating and accept all other financial aid offered to them.

Applications were due March 1.

Lawmakers also extended state-funded Oregon Opportunity grants to undocumented students beginning this school year. Grants are awarded based on financial need and can be used at community colleges, public universities and some private schools in Oregon.

Undocumented students are still not eligible for federal financial aid. Both changes could help more of these students — if they know about them.

“I meet with high school students right now and I say, ‘Didn’t you (apply for) the Oregon Promise?’ They say, ‘I don’t know what that is,’” said Evelia Sandoval, Central Oregon Community College’s Latino program coordinator who works with undocumented students.

COCC offers undocumented students scholarships through its Latino student fund. Prior to 2012, the fund awarded scholarships to about five students; last year they went to 25 students, including 20 who got full rides worth $3,600 a year, thanks in part to private donors directing their money to undocumented students.

“There have been donors who stepped up and said, ‘We want to support undocumented students,’” said Zak Boone, executive director at the COCC Foundation, which raises money for the college.

Boone said recent changes by the state may have helped raise awareness for the challenges undocumented students face in paying for college. He noted the foundation does not ask donors to give for specific scholarship funds.

“I wouldn’t say we’re seeing interest grow or wane, we’re just seeing more folks aware of these students,” Boone said. “They become aware of the gap in services for students who are undocumented.”

Yet another change from the state: Undocumented students enrolling in college more than three years after graduating high school will now qualify for in-state tuition.

Oregon’s so-called tuition equity law took effect in 2013 and allowed undocumented students who earned a high school diploma or GED in Oregon and met other requirements pay in-state tuition at public universities. The law originally required students enroll in college within three years of graduating from high school and graduate college within five years of enrolling.

Last year lawmakers approved a measure to remove those requirement beginning with the 2016-17 school year.

— Reporter: 541-617-7837,