By Brooklynn Hillemann
WNPA News Service
College students struggling to balance the cost of higher education with everyday expenses will have the burden slightly alleviated if lawmakers pass a bill increasing access to funds through the Washington College Grant program.
The House College & Workforce Development Committee held a hearing for HB 1659 on Jan. 12 which aims to modify the WCG program by increasing award eligibility and providing an annual stipend for expenses beyond tuition and fees.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Vandana Slatter, D-Bellevue, said, “You should not have to be extraordinarily lucky or wealthy to get a post-secondary credential, but that is what’s been happening for a while.”
Currently, WCG funds exclusively help cover the cost of tuition and other education-related expenses. The bill would lower income eligibility thresholds, allowing more students to take advantage of funding.
In addition, beginning in the 2022-23 academic year, WCG recipients awarded the maximum amount would also receive “bridge grants” of up to $1,000 for other non-education related expenses such as books, housing, transportation and childcare.
“We have this ambitious goal to get 70 percent of our high school students to a post-secondary credential and as faculty we really want to do our part,” University of Washington faculty legislative representative Jacob Vigdor said. “But there’s one thing we can’t do for our students. We can’t pay their bills for them.”
According to the bill’s fiscal note, the projected cost for the bridge grants will exceed $73 million with an estimated 63,000 students eligible for the $1,000 per year bridge grant. More than 21,000 additional students will be eligible for at least half of the award amount.
Slatter said, “These bridge grants are considered a critical college retention tool for supporting students who face economic shortfalls that might disrupt their college education.”
Students of low- and middle-income families within Washington can apply through the WCG for funding to mitigate the cost of college or career training.
By completing the federal financial aid application (FAFSA), colleges will determine eligibility and distribute awards depending on factors such as income, family size and school or program cost.
However, in 2020 Washington placed 49th in the nation for FAFSA completion, with only 46.7 percent of high school seniors submitting a finished application.
A related piece of legislation, HB 1835, tackles this issue with the hope of increasing post-secondary enrollment.
The bill would require the Washington Student Achievement Council to conduct a statewide marketing campaign to promote the WCG. Additional initiatives and programs will focus on increasing community outreach and educating students about the application resources available.