House advances bill to help more students afford college with 1 percent student loan rates

OLYMPIA – The state House of Representatives passed a measure yesterday to establish a state student loan program that would issue loans with an interest rate of just 1 percent to Washington undergraduate and graduate students. The bill, HB 1736, was the final bill considered by the House ahead of the 5:00 p.m. cutoff for bills to be voted out of their chamber of origin.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan (D-Covington), who is also on the House Appropriations Committee, sponsored the bill to create another option to help bring down the cost of higher education for Washington’s students and families.

“We’ve heard stories over and over about how debt is overburdening students, and it’s time to do something about it,” Sullivan said. “While the state can’t cancel federal student loan debt, we can provide hope for students to be able to access a college education without taking on crushing, high-interest debt that puts things like home ownership out of reach after they graduate.”

Speaking before the final vote on the bill, Sullivan noted that the program would help students who may be the first in their families to go to college, or who perhaps thought college was out of reach for them.

The bill creates a new Washington Student Loan Account with a one-time transfer of $300 million from the state’s general fund. The fund would provide annual loans of up to $3000 for undergraduate students and up to $5000 for graduate students, beginning in the 2024-25 academic year. The 1 percent interest rate would begin accruing after a grace period of six months once the borrower is no longer enrolled on at least a half-time basis.

Washington state is already known for having some of the most generous state financial aid programs in the country. The Washington College Grant already provides free or reduced tuition at the state’s two- and four-year public colleges for students from low- and middle income households. But there are still many students who don’t qualify for the grant.

“Students shouldn’t have to be saddled with ridiculously high interest student loans just so they can get a degree that opens doors for good-paying jobs in our state,” Sullivan said. “With this program, they have a more affordable option.”

The measure now heads to the Senate for consideration.