SEATTLE - Washington state lawmakers have a bold vision to provide universal access to higher education through two years of tuition-free community college.
Here are five things to know about the proposal.
It’s called the Washington Promise scholarship program.
The idea is to offer more opportunity for people who aren't necessarily poor but also can't afford a college tuition. Some qualifying students could also get a stipend for books and other expenses based on family income, lawmakers said at a news conference on Tuesday.
The plan would apply to part-time students, too. Anyone who does not currently hold a college degree would be eligible.
Lawmakers announced the proposal Tuesday.
A group of Democratic lawmakers announced it in the news conference, but there’s also a Republican from Spokane who’s agreed to be a co-sponsor.
On the Washington State Legislature website, the intent of the program reads as follows: “The legislature intends to strengthen the link between post-secondary education and K-12 education by creating the Washington promise scholarship program for academically successful high school graduates from low- and middle-income families.”
It’s unclear how it would be funded.
Lawmakers said this would initially cost between $100 million and $125 million.
Sen. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, said there was no proposal yet for where to get this funding.
“What we need to do is talk about how important this is, and then find the money for it,” Jayapal said.
She and other co-sponsors said that when the legislature lowered tuition last year, that was done in the same manner: to create the priority in the budget first, then seek a funding mechanism later. Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, said that he is considering ending certain low-priority tax exemptions.
A national effort is underway for free community college.
Last year, President Barack Obama proposed making community college free. Three states have created free community college programs since 2014: Minnesota, Oregon and Tennessee, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. At least 11 other states introduced legislation to create similar programs in 2015.
South Seattle College currently provides a one-year scholarship called the 13th Year Promise Scholarship.
Lawmakers used that as an example of something that works. Currently, all students from Chief Sealth, Cleveland and Rainier Beach high schools are eligible for one year of free tuition.Jayapal said, “We know that a high school diploma, while still foundational for every student, is simply not enough.
”She said that by 2018, 67 percent of Washington state jobs will require some post-secondary education.In its annual survey, WalletHub ranks Seattle sixth in nation for the metropolitan area with the highest educated residents. But lawmakers pointed out that this statistic is due to people with advanced degrees moving to the area.
Washington state ranks in the bottom third in the nation when it comes to getting people to attend college, according to the bill sponsors.
They said that many employers cannot find skilled people to fill their job vacancies.Sarah Phillips, a sophomore at South Seattle College, said she quit college to work and provide for her family.
She was only able to return with the help of scholarships and grants.
"I wouldn’t have even been able to dream something this big through everything that my family has been through,” Phillips said.Her parents never went to college.
She said her mother was captured by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
“She witnessed many deaths of the well-educated and associated education with death. And so both of them stayed away from higher education,” Phillips said.She said this program would help many people like her, who are first-generation college students.