Washington State has announced a new plan to send more students to college without the cost.
The Legislature’s new two-year budget indicates a transformation for higher education funding across the state through the development of the Washington College Grant.
The College Grant replaces the State Need Grant, which left over 18,000 eligible students without aid due to budget constraints and insufficient funds for scholarships. The College Grant will not only extend aid to those previously left out, but also expand resources to an estimated 110,000 more students who were previously ineligible for any aid at all.
By eliminating the financial barriers to higher education, legislators hope to make students more prepared for the future.
“[This] scholarship is our next step in making sure our students can compete for the careers of tomorrow,” Gov. Jay Inslee said when he introduced the plan Jan. 11.
The new program passed the state legislature as part of House Bill 2158, titled the “Workforce Education Investment Act.” Students at eligible two- or four-year colleges can apply to receive full tuition coverage at any of the state’s public universities and partial coverage at other schools. They can also use the funds toward apprenticeships and job training.
“We want everyone in this state to have an opportunity to go to college or through an apprenticeship so they can get a decent job to provide for their family,” Rep. Drew Hansen, the primary sponsor of the legislation and representative of the 23rd Legislative District, said in a statement.
Under the State Need Grant, families making 70% of the state’s median family income (MFI), which adjusted depending on a family’s size, were eligible to receive aid. Under the new College Grant, these families will have a completely guaranteed coverage of full tuition costs. Families making up to 100% of MFI will have a portion of the cost covered as well.
For example, the maximum grant awarded for tuition at the UW was $9,745 for the 2018-19 school year. By the time the College Grant is in effect, it is estimated to cover $10,748.
The bill will directly benefit students at the UW and also make the school a more realistic possibility for high school students considering a college education.
“Doing it this way, particularly the guarantee, makes it about more than the money. It becomes a more powerful message of opportunity,” Michael Meotti, executive director of the Washington State Achievement Council, said.
Meotti estimated that this promise will be the most far-reaching, especially to those who have the most difficulty paying for college, such as communities of color, immigrants, and lower income households. However, he also pointed out that this change will come more slowly to the UW as an elite four-year institution.
“There are more pieces of the puzzle than just financial aid,” Meotti said. “[But] it will help solve some of the equity challenges we see in higher education.”
The guarantee of free college certainly speaks to many UW students. As a public university, in-state residents are a significant voice at the UW, making up 61.7% of the student population as of this spring. Students showed their support for the bill through lobbying efforts in Olympia this year as they talked to legislators about the importance of making higher education accessible.
“[It was] certainly the most comprehensive and powerful effort by students from all three of our campuses,” Joe Dacca, UW director of state relations, said. “Students are the ones living this right now.”
For the UW, the Workforce Education Investment act also includes an additional $10 million to be distributed over the next two years to STEM departments across all three campuses. These funds will allow the increasingly competitive programs to build more spots for students.
The College Grant itself, too, provides overall foundational support for the university. According to Dacca, the money given by the state will help remedy the growing costs to maintain such a large university, mostly in the form of raises for professors and faculty.
UW President Ana Mari Cauce issued a statement late April supporting the legislation and its contributions to the UW as part of a “year of higher education.”
While tuition coverage under the grant will not be implemented until the 2020-21 academic year, it has already begun to have an impact. The program puts Washington state at the forefront of an emerging national movement for free college.
“If you look at coverage across the country, states will look at this program and think, ‘Wow this is really thoughtful,’” Dacca said.
The State Need Grant will be phased out in the upcoming academic year, and students will be able to apply for the Washington College Grant by the 2020-21 academic year. Both high school seniors and currently enrolled students are eligible for increased aid.
Reach contributing writer Hope Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @hopexmorris
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