Currently many Americans face barriers when it comes to access to education they need for a successful future. During his State of the Union Address Tuesday, Jan. 20, President Barack Obama addressed this issue and encouraged Congress to reward those willing to work for it with a zero-tuition plan. Access to affordable education has long been the mission of Oklahoma City Community College (OCCC), and for many OCCC students, free community college tuition has long been a reality.
Since 1999, OCCC has been ahead of the curve, encouraging students to take hold of their educational goals with OKC-GO. OKC-GO is OCCC’s successful tuition waiver program that offers all graduates of Oklahoma City and Western Heights public schools a free education. Last year, the program was expanded to include all tuition and fees paid with no set time limit on completing a degree.
“It’s as close to a guaranteed degree as you can get,” said Jon Horinek, OCCC director of Recruitment and Admissions. “The OKC-GO program is trying to eliminate some of the biggest barriers to completing a degree: cost and time.”
Now known as OKC-GO 2.0, between 300 and 400 students take advantage of the program each semester.
“By the end of this decade, two in three job openings will require some higher education,” President Obama said. “That’s why I am sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college â€” to zero.”
Under President Obama’s proposed plan, students who maintain a 2.5 GPA would get two years of free tuition paid for by both federal and state money. According to the President, an individual with an associate degree earns 25 percent more than someone who never attends college.
That rationale is why OCCC started its tuition waiver program. According to OCCC officials, it not only allows a graduate to earn more, it also makes them a better student, giving the opportunity to achieve advanced degrees.
“Students who graduate with an associate degree at OCCC have no trouble transferring to a four year institution in-state or out of state. In fact our graduates have higher GPA’s and are more likely to graduate on time than students who started at a 4-year college,” Horinek said.
After witnessing the devastation following the Haiti earthquake in 2010, Gabby Velasquez was determined to help people in need by pursuing a career path as a nurse, but didn’t think college was a possibility because of financial strain. However, with the help of OKC-GO, Velasquez successfully attended and graduated from OCCC. She is currently completing her nursing accreditation. Velasquez said attending OCCC was an inspiring experience that gave her direction and encouraged her to participate in a nursing externship at Mercy Hospital.
“I love the nursing program here. I was telling my mom if I had any other choice to go anywhere else I probably wouldn’t because this place has been awesome! I’m almost a nurse, and I’ve heard about the debt some people have amassed at other colleges, and I think ‘whoa,'” Velasquez said.
“Higher education is about so much more than achieving a career endpoint. The opportunity to attend a community college or university is invaluable as the experience between the walls of higher learning fosters confidence, critical thinking, curiosity, acceptance of diverse backgrounds and culture and is overall transformational,” Horinek said. “Higher education should be available to any student that has the desire and determination to take advantage of this learning environment for the good of the individual and our community.”
OCCC officials are excited about the President’s proposed plan, with the hope that it may allow the expansion of the OKC-GO program to additional school districts. This year, OCCC also plans to extend the program for adults who have graduated from Oklahoma City and Western Heights Public Schools and have been two years removed from college to receive a tuition waiver to come back and finish their degree.
To be part of OKC-GO 2.0, students are required to complete the Federal Student Aid application (FAFSA), although OKC-GO 2.0 has no income limitations, once in the program, students must complete a FAFSA each year and maintain satisfactory academic progress, while taking at least 6 hours each fall and spring semester until graduation.
For more information, call 405.682.7580, check out /OKC-GO or visit the OCCC Office of Recruitment and Admissions, 7777 South May Avenue.