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State awards then rescinds 7,500 Oregon Promise Grants in "staff error"

The Oregon Promise Grant helps recipients pay for community college tuition.

PORTLAND, Oregon — Thousands of Oregon students got an e-mail this week, saying they'd been awarded grant money for college from the state. Oregon education officials said it was all a mistake and that the e-mail went out by accident.

KGW learned about the state's “staff error" from several affected families who reached out, frustrated. One of them was the Thornton family of West Linn. On Tuesday, Sophia Thornton, 18, got the e-mail from the Higher Education Coordinating Commission saying she’d been awarded the Oregon Promise Grant, which helps students pay for community college tuition. According to the state’s website, recipients of a 2020-2021 Oregon Promise Grant would be awarded anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000.

“I was really shocked and kinda happy!” said Thornton.

One reason for Thornton’s surprise was back in July, she said the state informed her that she had not qualified for the Oregon Promise Grant.

“I was excited,” said Thornton’s mom, Michele Thornton. “I thought maybe they reevaluated and were maybe able to do more scholarships.”

But just hours after receiving the promising e-mail, the Thorntons got another e-mail from the same office. It said, "You received that message in error. You are not awarded the grant. We apologize for the error."

“It's kind of a bad time to be surprising people with good news then saying, ‘Oh wait, that's not right,'” said Michele.

State education officials admit that e-mail, inaccurately awarding Oregon Promise Grants, went out to approximately 7,500 students. In a statement to KGW, HECC director Juan Baez-Arevalo said the mistake was due to a "staff error" in the Office of Student Access and Completion's bulk e-mail system.

"We apologize for any confusion or disappointment this has caused students and families," said Baez-Arevalo.

Despite her frustration, Michele Thornton offered a gracious response.

“I feel bad for whoever actually sent the e-mail because I’m sure they're feeling terrible about it,” she said.

This fall, Sophia Thornton still plans to attend college and is duel-enrolled at Linn Benton Community College and Oregon State University. She said as much as the Oregon Promise Grant would have helped her, she's most disappointed for the students who depended on it.

“Everyone definitely needs it now,” she said.

In addition to an apology, Baez-Arevalo offered students some advice, saying they should check with their college or university financial aid office on what options might be available to them.

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