Willamette Students and Administrator Testify for Financial Aid Bill

Two Willamette students urged Oregon legislators Wednesday to invest in their futures by properly funding the Oregon Opportunity Grant, the largest state-funded need-based program for Oregon college students.

Radu Bobirnac ’12 and Marco Fiallo ’11, along with Madeleine Rhyneer, Willamette’s vice president for admission and financial aid, testified in front of the Senate Education and General Government Committee. They spoke in favor of Senate Bill 478, which would change part of the revised Oregon Opportunity Grant program that only funds private college students at the cost of attending a state-subsidized university.

This year nearly 2,900 low-income students attending Oregon’s independent colleges received these grants. If the bill doesn’t pass, that number would drop to less than 2,600 next year, and to 2,250 the following year. If it passes, the number could grow to 3,500 in the fall.

Bobirnac and Fiallo are among 198 Willamette students who received the grant this year.

Fiallo, a nontraditional student who served in Iraq and Afghanistan with the U.S. Marine Corps before coming to Willamette, said he could not have enrolled without the help of financial aid. “I was working as a government contractor, which paid well but had no future. Applying to Willamette was something that really helped me. I’m on my own and I work 40 hours a week at the Salem Veterans Center to make ends meet. I’m asking for a chance to make things better for us and to help us advance our education.

Bobirnac’s family immigrated to Oregon from Romania. He was attracted to Willamette after hearing the university motto, “Not unto ourselves alone are we born,” but his parents didn’t know how to pay his tuition. “I told them, ‘Don’t pay for it. I’ll find a way. There’s always a way because this is the land of opportunity,’” Bobirnac said.

“We’re in a financial crisis, and I understand that you need the money, but if we have to invest in anything, it should be education. You need to invest in our education to help us be better residents and to be able to give back to our community.”

Through the Oregon Opportunity Grant, federal loans, and scholarships from Willamette, Bobirnac was able to enroll. “I wanted to thank you [for the grant] because this does make a difference, and I really appreciate that,” he said.

Fiallo received a prestigious national Kemper Scholarship in 2008; learn more about his story.

To learn about Oregon Opportunity Grants, go to