Rep. Pollet and Sen. Frockt propose the Washington Promise free community college tuition program

OLYMPIA – Rep. Gerry Pollet (D-Seattle) and Sen. David Frockt (D-Seattle) have introduced the Washington Promise. The Washington Promise would assure qualifying high school students that they will be able to go to community college. Promise programs are a proven way to increase high school graduation rates. The bill will initially provide one year of guaranteed tuition at community and technical colleges for lower income Washington residents, and then gradually expand free community college access.

“Opening the door to our state’s community colleges with a year of free tuition for recent low income grads puts the dream of higher education in reach,” said Pollet, the bill’s prime sponsor in the House. “Free access to community college is a proven way to increase high school graduation rates and to enable people to move up in their careers to support their families.”

While funding K-12 remains the legislature’s top focus for 2017, lawmakers must continue their work to ensure students have affordable options once graduation arrives.

“The Washington Promise is about giving our people the tools they need to fulfill their own potential, said Frockt, author of a Senate companion bill and a member of the Senate Higher Education Committee. “Making community or technical college more accessible will bridge the gap between need and skill in the workforce, build on already successful programs such as Washington’s College Bound Scholarship, and create attainable rungs in the ladder of upward mobility for every Washingtonian.”

The long-term vision behind the program is to provide educational and economic opportunity for Washington residents and support the expansion of Washington businesses by offering tuition free community college for middle and low-income families. This bill moves gradually toward that vision by offering one-year of tuition free community college to recent high school graduates (this includes recent GED recipients) from low-income families.

“The Washington Promise is a powerful vision to give all Washingtonians, regardless of economic circumstances, the ability to pursue a fulfilling career through our community and technical colleges,” said South Seattle College President Gary Oertli.  “SSC has been offering one year of tuition-free college to high school graduates since 2008 through the 13th Year Promise Scholarship, and to know that support could expand across our state with this legislation is truly exciting.”

In the first couple of years, the bill would ensure that recent graduates who are eligible for the State Need Grant would have their first year of tuition covered. Currently, 24,000 students qualify for State Need Grants but do not receive them, while many others do not even attempt to enroll in college due to cost.

In the fourth year, the Washington Promise would cover a second year of tuition for students whose family income is less than 70 percent of the state median. In the fifth year, eligibility would expand to include middle-income families.  Eventually, (2023-24 academic year, Year 7 of the program) two years of tuition free community college would be available to middle and low income students regardless of when they completed high school.

“The Washington Promise program proposed by Senator Frockt and Representative Pollet will scale up a proven best practice state wide, thus benefiting thousands of students.  This will be a game changer for Washington’s postsecondary education and workforce development. I urge legislative support to make the bold vision and leadership by Senator Frockt and Representative Pollet a reality,” said Shouan Pan, Chancellor, Seattle Colleges.

College Promise programs have been adopted in cities like Los Angeles and Philadelphia, and states like Oregon and Tennessee.

The measure will have a hearing in the House Higher Education Committee Wednesday, February 8 at 1:30.