Final state budget increases higher ed access, options for Kitsap Peninsula

OLYMPIA – State legislators have approved a final supplemental budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which includes new investments expanding higher education access and options for Kitsap County residents, including a big increase in funding for state financial aid.

“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.

Over the next year, an additional 4600 students statewide who would otherwise need to incur debt or forgo attending college due to lack of funds will be able to access the State Need Grant (SNG), Washington’s principal financial aid program. The total supplemental budget assumes that the SNG will be fully funded over a four-year period, providing opportunities for all eligible students to receive financial aid.

The final budget also allocates a total of $700,000 for creation and implementation of an early childhood education degree program at the Western on the Peninsulas campus, in collaboration with Olympic College. The program is expected to grant approximately 75 bachelor’s degrees per year in early childhood education when it is fully underway.

“This new early childhood education degree complements the degrees in engineering and cybersecurity that we’ve brought to Kitsap County over the last several years,” Hansen said. “Now, whether you’re good with computers, good at solving mechanical problems, or good with kids, we have a college degree available to you so you can get a decent job and support your family.”

Shannon Turner, student body president at Olympic College, hailed the new degree program as providing more opportunities for the area.

“I have talked to the students and community members, and they look forward to more opportunities to receive other bachelor degrees within the partnership with Western Washington University. More educational opportunities means higher enrollment and the ability for students to maintain their livelihoods without much interruption. Being able to achieve their degrees allows them to help build a better and stronger workforce in Kitsap County,” Turner said.

Additional higher education options may be on the horizon for the region. The supplemental state budget provides one-time funding for a feasibility study to explore Western Washington University’s creation of a four-year degree granting campus on the Kitsap or Olympic Peninsula. The University must submit a report on the findings of the study to the Governor and appropriate committees of the Legislature by December of this year.

With approval of the budget by both House and Senate, it now goes to the governor’s desk for signature.