Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee visited UW Tacoma Jan. 11 to discuss his proposal to transform the Washington State Need Grant into the Washington College Promise and guarantee that it is fully funded by 2021. In fully funding the new plan, 93,000 eligible students would be ensured financial aid for higher education. Students from over five local Puget Sound colleges and universities were present at the roundtable meeting held in the Mattress Factory.
The State Need Grant is a program that provides need-based financial aid to income-eligible students pursuing higher education. The grant is available for students who have a total household income that is less than 70 percent of the state median family income. Currently, over 65 higher education institutions participate in the program. Eligible students can use the grant at public two and four-year colleges, universities, accredited independent colleges and career schools. However, under the State Need Grant, 18,000 out of the 72,000 students eligible to receive financial aid do not get the help they need because there is not enough money funding the program.
“The State Need Grant is the foundation of WA’s financial aid system,” Inslee tweeted Jan. 11. “But it has been chronically underfunded, and many eligible students who applied have not received the grant. We are changing that with Washington College Promise, where the state will fully fund the program.”
Inslee first held a roundtable discussion with students, including Associated Students of UWT president Armen Papyan and Law and Policy major Aceca Johnson-Scott. Inslee, along with Rep. Drew Hansen — Chair of the Higher Education committee — discussed the importance of the program and listened to students explain their accomplishments as well as what they thought were “hurdles” and barriers in their college experiences.
“The roundtable meeting showed me firsthand what comes along with passion and persistence,” said Johnson-Scott. “I was able to see the beauty of advocating but I was also able to recognize that being an advocate isn’t enough — it’s not the game changer. It’s everything that comes after speaking your piece: it’s the action that follows, the consistency and dedication. It made me distinguish whether I wanted to be about talk or about change.”
After the meeting, Inslee held a press conference in William Philip Hall. During the conference, Inslee and three student speakers from local universities shared their stories on how the State Need Grant helped to fund their higher education, as well as the need to make sure the new program is fully funded.
Inslee’s 2020–2021 budget proposal, which he hopes will be approved by the state legislature, includes allocating $282 million towards higher education — $103 million of which is slotted for funding the Washington College Promise program. All of this would be funded by the state’s General Fund. To pay for his proposal, Inslee hopes to raise $3.7 billion in new taxes. Approval of this plan would eliminate the waitlist for aid, which the current State Need Grant struggles with.
Johnson-Scott explained what Inslee’s proposal means for herself and for students who rely on state funding to support their higher education.
“I recognize education as the force it truly is, its impact, [and] the foundation it provides. This program is important to me because it’s bigger than just me; its impact is endless. It’s a blessing to know you have people behind, in front and alongside of you that would stop at nothing to see you prosper.”