For nearly a decade, we have made the case in these pages for full funding of Washington’s signature student aid program, the State Need Grant. In what we believe is one of the most important achievements of this most recent legislative session, the Legislature and governor have renamed and significantly expanded our state’s key student aid program (“ ‘Gigantic expansion’ of Washington’s State Need Grant …” The Spokesman-Review, May 31).
Providing access to higher education degrees, apprenticeships and industry certificate programs is essential for increasing individual prosperity and statewide economic growth and development. Earlier this year, a report from Washington STEM and the Spokane STEM Network showed that just a little over one-third (36 percent) of Eastern Washington high school graduates earn a higher education credential by the time they are 26. Yet, about two-thirds of the jobs in our region require some type of credential beyond a high school diploma. Many of the barriers to pursuing higher education have involved cost and flexibility.
Being responsive to students’ needs is at the heart of the new and expanded Washington College Grant. The grant is available to new high school graduates and the many adults in Eastern Washington who have not yet earned a degree. It can be used at public two-year or four-year campuses, in apprenticeship programs, full- or part-time programs, and at private, not-for-profit colleges and universities, including Whitworth and Gonzaga.
Further, the state guarantee of funding – which means that no student who qualifies will be left out – means that by the 2020-21 school year, an estimated 110,000 Washington residents will have access to assistance in meeting tuition and fees at the campus or program that best meets their individual needs.
The Washington College Grant will soon guarantee student aid to those from families that earn up to the state’s median family income (approximately $92,000 for a family of four), so those with the greatest need will have access to resources to continue their education. We know that continuing education past high school is critically important. Higher education pays off for individuals, their families and our communities, and we are excited and gratified to see more of Washington’s students get this life-changing opportunity.
We are grateful that our governor and our legislators recognize the critical role that independent colleges play in educating the citizens of our state. The 10 higher education institutions that make up the Independent Colleges of Washington (ICW) – including Gonzaga and Whitworth – collectively educate nearly 40,000 students annually. Together, we enroll students from all 39 Washington counties, each of our 49 sister states, and more than 90 countries.
We believe that students should have the opportunity to find the program of study and educational environment that will best help them develop as a whole person, prepared for success in their careers and lives. On our campuses you will find diverse student bodies pursuing studies across a range of academic areas, from engineering and nursing to education and business administration. When taken as a whole, approximately one in three ICW undergraduates qualifies for Pell Grants and/or Washington College Grants; one-third are from traditionally underrepresented racial and ethnic populations; one in three students transfers credits from other institutions; and more than 1,200 are veterans.
And we are committed to helping our students complete their degrees: Across Washington’s independent institutions, students at independent institutions like Gonzaga and Whitworth earn their degrees at rates that are among the highest in the nation. Our 8,000 employees and nearly 200,000 alumni are making meaningful contributions to communities throughout the state.
We are excited about the transformational opportunity that the new Washington College Grant will have for all of Washington’s students, and we look forward to continuing, together with our public institution colleagues, in the vital work of providing an affordable education to the citizens of our region and state.
Thayne M. McCulloh and Beck A. Taylor are the university presidents at Gonzaga and Whitworth, respectively.
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