As soon as 2017, college campuses across Washington state may be filled with happy students carrying a bit more cash in their pockets — if all goes according to plan. State legislators announced a proposal on Jan. 20 that would provide Washington state residents with free college education.
Under the Washington Promise program, any resident who completes a state or federal application will be eligible until they have earned an associate degree or 120 class credits from a community college.
“The community college system in this state is one of the best in the country and really prepares students for careers or for transfer to four-year institutions,” said Sen. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, in a press release from the Washington House Democrats. “But the cost of tuition is still a barrier for too many people. If we remove that barrier, our state will be on the fast-track to a stronger economy.”
Jayapal and fellow Seattle lawmakers Rep. Gerry Pollet and Sen. David Frockt presented the plan at a press conference in Olympia. The proposal’s funding source has yet to be determined, but it is estimated to cost between $94 million and $105 million, according to the Associated Press.
All Washingtonians will be eligible to participate regardless of income-level, if the program is passed. As presented, it would not affect existing need-based state scholarship programs.
Washington state is not the first to move toward free college. The Tennessee Promise provides scholarship opportunities that cover tuition and fees beyond Pell grant or other state assistance funds, allowing high school students to apply for two years of free education at any of the state’s 13 community colleges or 27 technical colleges. The program launched with the graduating class of 2015. Some funding for the program comes from the state’s excess lottery revenue.
Meanwhile, Oregon Promise will provide $10 million to college students who have received federal tuition assistance. Oregon will supplement the federal assistance, creating a nearly tuition-free college experience. Minnesota began a pilot program that will provide $8.5 million in financial assistance for recent high school graduates in job-skill programs at local community colleges.
Work is also being done on the federal level to create equal opportunity in higher education. In 2015, President Barack Obama proposed a similar idea that would allow for two free years of community college through a state and federal partnership. Eleven other state legislatures across the country have brought forward proposals for similar plans that alleviate the financial burden of higher education, according to a White House report.