Amber Lee was such a diligent student at Willamette High in Eugene that she has been admitted toPortland State Universitys honors program to major in biochemistry on her way to becoming a doctor.
But her mother barely earns enough to support the two of them and their savings is nil.
So how does Portland State expect a student like her to afford the $23,000 yearly cost of tuition, fees, room and board?
On top of $1,000 in scholarships shes won and the maximum $7,700 in federal and state financial aid, Portland State didnt award her a dime.
She is expected to pay the remaining $14,300 by taking out loans — just for freshman year.
So Lee is taking whatever actions she can. She is working 36 hours a week atDairy Queen and putting 90 percent of her $9.10 hourly pay toward college.
And, Tuesday morning, she is testifying beforethe Senate Finance Committee in hopes of helping prompt Congress to change policies to help low-income students like her better afford college without taking on crippling levels of debt.
Plenty of other incoming college freshmen could tell similar tales of scary college costs and loan amounts. But Lee lives in Oregon, home to new Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, who visited Willamette High in 2013.
And her situation stands out as one of the bleakest among Willamette students who knocked it out of the park during high school and are star college material.
Portland State simply doesnt have enough scholarship money to help all the deserving students who need it, says spokesman Scott Gallagher. The school is working hard, with some success, to get donors to endow more scholarships for students like Lee, he said.
Until she flew to Washington, DC, Monday to get ready to testify, Lee had never been on a plane. She found it amazing to fly into the nations capital and see the famous monuments and buildings from the air, she said.
The committee meeting begins at 7 am Pacific Time and can be watched via a livestream.
Lee said she mainly plans to share her story but will also suggest some steps she believes the federal government could take to help, including expanding loan forgiveness, limiting interest rates on student loans and expanding financial aid.
Wyden, the committee chair, has his own ideas, which including changing the tax code and better publicizing tax credits already available to help defer some families college costs.
According Lindsey Held Bolton, press secretary for the committee, Wyden wants Congress to:
- Simplify the tax code: Its time to make education tax credits easier to understand and use, Wyden says. Theres an overgrown web of more than a dozen tax incentives that families and students have to navigate. The menu should be stronger and simpler.
- Encourage, and limit barriers, to saving: Wyden wants to make it as easy as possible for low-income families to save, and be rewarded for saving.
- Improve awareness: There is no simple college savings guide for new parents. And, Wyden says, student aid forms steer kids toward loans without even mentioning tax benefits that would lower their debt. As a result, families often leave tax benefits on the table. Wyden wants officials to do more to make sure college students and their parents know what is available.
— Betsy Hammond