The cost of attending college in Washington state has been a bit of a roller coaster during the past decade. During the recession, state schools had some of the steepest tuition hikes in the country. But after Republicans took control of the Senate, they successfully managed to first freeze — then reverse — many of those tuition hikes.
Now it's Gov. Jay Inslee's turn to try to propose a big reform to address the cost of college. Along with emphasizing climate change legislation and saving the orca whales in his State of the State speech Tuesday, Inslee touted a "statewide free college program that guarantees state financial aid to eligible students."
Rep. Drew Hansen, chair of the House College Workforce and Development Committee, says the Legislature has underfunded the State Need Grant for years, locking out low-income students from accessing state aid.
"We cut tuition, but didn't keep pace with financial aid," Hansen says. "Each year, we have over 10,000 students in Washington who deserve financial aid, but don't get it."
Hansen and Inslee's proposal is to convert the State Need Grant into what they're calling the "Washington College Promise" scholarship program: By spending $103 million on the program, Inslee's team believes an additional 18,000 students could be served.
"Combined with help at the federal level, this will be free tuition for families making under $44,000 for a family of four," Hansen says. Not only that, but Hansen says the bill would provide aid for students who want to go into apprenticeship programs instead of traditional schooling.
In their response to the governor's State of the State speech, however, state Republicans were highly critical of the governor making big promises without mentioning the costs — like tax increases — to get there.