Free college in Washington state? Rep. Pollet’s “Washington Promise” Bill (HB 1123)

OLYMPIA ­­– Under the new “Washington Promise” legislation introduced by Rep. Gerry Pollet, HB 1123, every low- and middle-income student in Washington would be assured the opportunity to attend college for free. This education would come with vital supports needed to complete their workforce training or degree.

“No person should be pushed away from realizing the college dream and advancing their careers due to a lack of financial resources,” said Pollet (D-Seattle).

Every qualified high school student, whose family income is lower than the median family income in Washington, would be assured the opportunity to attend higher education under the Washington Promise. The Promise would also extend in future years to returning adults and those seeking a GED.

Promise programs are now proven in several states and cities to dramatically increase high school student graduation rates, particularly for low income, and under-represented students. The Promise Programs succeed with a clear message that college programs are accessible to every high school graduate. A second key is providing every Promise student with advising, mentoring, and student success courses – which have greatly increased first year, degree, and certificate completion rates.

“It’s not enough to open the door to the increasing number of first generation college students entering our colleges,” said Pollet. “We also need to provide students with proven programs that help them to come out the door on the other side of their college with a degree or workforce training certification.”

The bill also brings needed updates for Washington State Need Grants and Washington State Opportunity Scholarships in recognition of costs beyond tuition and books. Pollet’s bill will provide financial aid for other expenses like transportation, childcare costs, and living expenses.

For the first academic year of implementation, the program will be made available to five cities in Washington, including help support for the new Seattle Promise program

HB 1123 builds on the Governor’s and WA Student Achievement Council’s proposed expansion of the State Need Grant and proposal to make the SNG a budget forecast item:

  • HB 1123 combines our multiplicity of confusing financial aid programs into one Washington Promise, easily understood and accessible for high school students and returning adults;
    • Current eligibility for State Need Grant is limited to below 70 percent Median Family Income (MFI), but we have over 22,000 qualified students without grants and only fully fund to 50 percent MFI. SNG is not guaranteed.
    • College Bound provides guaranteed funding – but only if a student signs up before entering grade 9 and is still qualified at graduation – to 65 percent MFI. Students who lose qualification find their hopes dashed with no assurance that they will get a SNG. Students who move to the state later, move frequently, have difficulty keeping up grades, or fail to graduate lose their qualification – which often leads to dropping out. Adults or those returning for a GED are not eligible.
  • Under HB 1123, low and middle income students – including those seeking a GED – will have a clear message that Washington wants them to attend college for a degree or workforce training:­­­

The Washington Promise would begin in 2019-20 with pilot funding matching up to five city or county investments in local Promise Free Community College Programs, and then expands statewide in 2020-21:


Washington Promise Program Phase-In (Community and Technical College access):
Academic Year Grant Amount Graduation Requirement Median Family Income Threshold
2020-21 Free 13th year Graduated high school within the past 6 calendar months 70% MFI
2021-22 2 Free years High school diploma or equivalent within past 6 calendar months 70% MFI
2022-23 &
2 Free years High school diploma or equivalent within the past 16 calendar months 100% MFI
2024-2025 and beyond 2 Free years High school diploma or equivalent

100% MFI



HB 1123 follows the Governor’s proposal to make the SNG a forecast funded item, assuring students that they will receive support to go to college.

State Need Grant (SNG) Changes

The maximum SNG award is changed to tuition and fees, not to exceed the highest priced public institution in the state, rather than a percentage of tuition and fees (e.g., students whose family income is 51 percent of MFI would now get a full grant). We are currently only fully funding to 50 percent MFI, and many students who qualify do not get a grant.

Under HB 1123, the Student Achievement Council will provide a maximum SNG award to qualified students, but flexibility remains to provide funding (as appropriated by the Legislature in future sessions) for students above MFI thresholds. The maximum SNG award is phased-in as follows:


State Need Grant Maximum Award Phase-In

2019-20 and 2020-21 60% MFI
2021-22 and 2022-23 70% MFI
2023-24 and beyond 100% MFI


For Info: Rep Gerry Pollet, cell 206-819-9015;