Oregon continues to dedicate energy and money to making education available to everyone and to helping aspiring students find opportunities.  Today, it takes an average of at least one year of post-high education to position someone to earn a living wage (save a bit of money, not need roommates to share expenses, etc.).

The Oregon Student Assistance Commission (OSAC) started ASPIRE in 1998 to encourage post-secondary education and help students find funds to meet the increasing cost of post-secondary education.  ASPIRE staff and volunteers provide students and families with access to information about college; alternatives such as vocational and apprenticeship programs; and financial aid for education.  

As a program, ASPIRE measures success by the number of students we help.  Using a volunteer corps of community members trained by ASPIRE, we work directly with students and their families to ensure success for as many local students as possible. 

Time is at a premium for each of us so my goal today is to answer these frequently asked questions, “What’s in it for me?” and “Why should I do this?”

What’s in it for high school students?

One of my favorite memories of my first year as ASPIRE Program coordinator (last year) is of one of my prospective students interviewing me to see if ASPIRE would be worth her time.  I was thrilled to see her end-of-year journal entry state that she felt it had been a valuable program. 

Through ASPIRE and OSAC, Oregon offers high school students an array of tools for helping with questions such as, “What would be a good career for me?” “What college is best for me?”  “Where can I find an apprenticeship?” “Am I smart enough to go to college?” or “How can I afford to go to school?” 

Of the 54 seniors enrolled in the McMinnville High School ASPIRE program in 2010, 23 received scholarship money from a combined 58 scholarships.  At Yamhill-Carlton, the 55 students who received ASPIRE coaching earned 64 scholarships.

We know that, in addition to scholarships, many of the ASPIRE students successfully filed FAFSAs (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) thanks, in part, to coaching and ASPIRE school Financial Aid night programs.  This allowed many students to qualify for Federal Pell Grants and/or Oregon Opportunity Grants to assist in paying for their education. 

ASPIRE provides information and mentoring resources to assist students with organizing information; keeping track of key deadlines; talking through concerns; checking admissions requirements; discussing ideas for essays; proofreading; interpreting scholarship letters; using the state-administered electronic application to apply for any of the 400 scholarships in the OSAC database; and working with FAFSA staff to resolve any issues identified after FAFSA submission.  

High schools in Amity, Dayton, McMinnville, Sheridan and Yamhill-Carlton have ASPIRE programs. To get started in ASPIRE, a student need only fill out an application and get a parent’s signed permission. While ASPIRE mentoring is most urgent for seniors, freshmen, sopohomores, and juniors are encouraged to sign up.  This gives them a jumpstart on their plan for a successful future. 

What’s in it for families?

ASPIRE and OSAC offer tools to help families find and access opportunities for their student.  Both the OSAC and ASPIRE web sites have resources that anyone can take advantage of.  OSAC also offers a list of short “podcasts” on key subjects such as completing the electronic application, avoiding scholarship scams, and finding financial aid for foster youth.  ASPIRE joins with career centers at these high schools to provide reference material and free government publications about job growth, salaries and resources.

What’s in it for volunteers? 

You didn’t think I’d get through this without making a pitch for volunteers did you?  In McMinnville, I had 10 seniors who did not get an individual mentor.  Some joined the program late or didn’t need a mentor.  But for some, it was because there weren’t enough mentors to give every student a mentor. 

This year we are partnering with Linfield in hopes of swelling our mentor ranks with a larger pool of Linfield students selecting ASPIRE as a way to participate in their community.  We have Kelsie Burdick, a 2010 McMinnville High grad, serving as a mentor and as Linfield ASPIRE Program Student Coordinator. 

We need and would love to grow our volunteer ranks at all five ASPIRE programs in Yamhill County.  ASPIRE volunteers can be effective donating as little as three hours per month.  It’s a rewarding way to support your community and have a positive impact on our youth and young adults. We require a background check to meet school guidelines; we supply training and materials.  Please contact your local ASPIRE Program coordinator to investigate becoming an ASPIRE volunteer. 

Amity:  Shanna Ramos, shanna.ramos@amity.k12.or.us, 503-835-2181 ext. 295

Dayton:  Debbie Kearns, debbie.kearns@dayton.k12.or.us, 503-864-2273

McMinnville:  Sarah Shipley, sshipley@msd.k12.or.us, 503-565-4271

                      Kelsie Burdick, kburdic@linfield.edu

Sheridan:  Tracy Grauer, grauers@embarqmail.com, 503-843-3938

Yamhill-Carlton:  Janet Herring-Sherman, aspire@ycsd.k12.or.us, 503-852-7614

To learn a bit more about ASPIRE visit www.aspireoregon.org

Podcasts can be found at:  http://www.osac.state.or.us/podcast.html

Oregon’s online electronic scholarship application (eApp): www.getcollegefunds.org

Federal Application for Free Student Aid:   www.fafsa.ed.gov