Sen. Corey Brooks has filed legislation to allow the State Regents for Higher Education to review cases for students who apply for the state’s tuition reimbursement program whose families have unique financial situations that make their children ineligible for the program. Senate Bill 137 would update the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP) qualifications to remove disability compensation from being considered when determining financial need and would also direct the State Regents to develop an appeals process for students denied OHLAP.
“This program was created to ensure that every Oklahoma student who wants to go to college and meets the qualifications can do so,” said Brooks, R-Washington. “However, there are students who haven’t qualified for the scholarship because of their parents’ disability payments or other special financial situations and the State Regents doesn’t have a process in place to review such cases. Sadly, those students missed out on this program and had to find other financial assistance or forego attending college altogether. Hopefully, this bill can address this oversight and help review these special cases and get these students in the program.”
Brooks said the bill was requested by a family in his district whose son was denied access to the program because of their father’s social security disability payments. The father was diagnosed with a brain tumor a few years ago that has left him unable to care for himself. Due to various treatments for the brain tumor (including surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy), he requires 24/7 nursing care and is in a nursing home. His social security disability payments put the family over the program’s $50,000 annual family income eligibility level. The family has one more child and hope that a review process is in place in time for that child to possibly get the scholarship.
“This family is a heartbreaking example of why the State Regents should have a process to review individual cases. Every families’ financial situation is different and we need to make sure that the Regents are taking their circumstances into consideration when making such an important decision as to whether they’ll be able to attend college or not,” said Brooks.
OHLAP, also known as Oklahoma’s Promise, provides tuition assistance to students who might not otherwise attend or complete college. Qualifying students in families who earn less than $50,000 annually upon application and less than $100,000 annually when the student begins college would receive free tuition assistance to any public or private higher education institution in Oklahoma for up to five years. In order to qualify, students must enroll in the program by 10th grade, must agree to take a college preparatory curriculum, must have a G.P.A. of at least 2.5 in high school or achieve an ACT composite score of at least 22 and must refrain from unlawful behavior. In FY ’13, there were 19,619 students receiving the OHLAP scholarship. Of the 2014 graduating class, nearly 9,700 students enrolled in the program.