OLYMPIA – Over the next four years, thousands of additional students will have the opportunity to afford college thanks to a major commitment by state lawmakers to eliminate the funding backlog for the State Need Grant (SNG), Washington’s principal financial aid program. The $116 million investment during the current four-year budgeting period will eliminate three-quarters of the backlog, with the Legislature stating its intention to eliminate the remaining quarter by fiscal year 2021. This funding is one of several major higher education wins in the final state supplemental budget that passed the Legislature today.
“An increasing number of families just cannot afford college, and for many students, the only option is loans that inflict crushing debt after graduation,” said Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, who chairs the Senate Higher Education & Workforce Development Committee. “Democrats are going to make absolutely sure that all students – no matter your family income or background – – have access to college without overwhelming debt after graduation.”
The State Need Grant provides financial aid to students from low-income households to attend college. Over the next year, an additional 4600 students statewide who would otherwise need to incur debt or forgo college due to lack of funds will be able to access the State Need Grant. Additional slots will be phased in during each of the following three years.
“Today’s financial aid boost will help thousands of Washington families afford college, whether that’s a 50-year-old taking some classes to train for a new job or someone who just graduated from high school and wants to pursue their dream of a college education,” said Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island, who chairs the House Higher Education committee and has strongly advocated for full funding of student financial aid.
Also included in the final budget is additional funding to increase eligibility for people who have experienced homelessness and federal foster care system, and expand the successful Passport to College Promise program to include apprenticeships. Renamed the Passport to Careers program, it would potentially double the number of students served.
Additionally, the budget contains $3 million over the next year to complete a much-needed expansion of computer science slots at the University of Washington, doubling the school’s capacity to more than 600 degrees per year.
“We applaud the Washington state legislature for helping to fully fund enrollments at the University of Washington’s Paul G. Allen Computer Science and Engineering School. Combined with the contributions from many companies and individuals in the region, the school will double its capacity to graduate students with computer science degrees. This investment will better prepare our students for the jobs of tomorrow while strengthening our state’s ability to develop talent and compete on a global scale,” said Microsoft president Brad Smith.
Rural areas also receive a higher education boost in the budget. The state is investing $1 million for its share of a public-private partnership offering scholarships at community colleges in rural counties. Funding can be applied to tuition as well as eligible expenses such as books. The program is aimed at high-demand fields in each region, such as firefighting, nursing, carpentry, and forestry and timber jobs.
The budget now goes to the governor for signature.