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No surprise: Seattle Promise boosts community college enrollment

In 2018, Seattle city residents approved a special seven-year tax levy to fund the Seattle Promise program. Seattle Promise funds two years (or 90 credit hours) of community college tuition (at one of Seattle’s three community colleges) for graduates of any of Seattle’s seventeen high schools. The program will fund community college enrollment regardless of GPA or family income.

In addition, “Seattle Promise Scholars” can also receive assistance with applying for financial aid; academic advising; mentoring and transition assistance. The Seattle Promise grew from an experimental program that funded one year of community college enrollment for students who graduated from one of six designated high schools.

Seattle’s 2020 high school graduates are the first fully enfranchised Seattle Promise Scholars. Despite the pandemic, Seattle’s community colleges welcomed nearly 900 Promise students. That’s about one-third of Seattle’s 2020 high school graduates. 62% of the incoming class are students of color.

Once again, removing the barrier of cost reveals the high hidden demand for community college education. High school graduates who would otherwise not identify themselves as “college material” find that their playing field is much more level when cost of attendance is factored out of the equation.

Minimize costs to maximize community college enrollment

It calls into question the definition of “affordable” as it applies to community college tuition. What a Trustee views as highly affordable may be absolutely out of the question for a prospective student working a minimum-wage job.

$95 per credit hour ($105 with fees) may, in fact, be a “break the bank” issue. The popularity of the Futures for Frontliners program strongly suggests that it is. Nearly 100,000 people have applied for the program, which provides free community college enrollment for Michigan’s qualified essential workers.

That’s why the Trustees must restrict the cost of WCC’s administrative overgrowth. Further, they must reject plans to fund useless construction projects on the backs of WCC students. Reducing administrative costs and using funds to maintain the campus infrastructure keeps tuition costs low.

When tuition costs are low, community college enrollment increases because education is truly affordable. When the Trustees raise tuition and fees to finance uncontrolled spending and neglected infrastructure, they shift college out of reach for the poorest students. Unfortunately, these are exactly the people the community college is supposed to help.

Increasing the cost of attendance exacerbates inequity and promotes economic injustice in our community. Speaking plainly, it lowers community college enrollment.

And what exactly are we raising tuition and fees to pay for? A health club for college executives? Another event space?

The stark reality is that this community needs to prepare people for jobs. That requires the thoughtful and focused use of our communal resources. At the end of the day, that is more important, more meaningful, and more productive than building another event space.

Photo Credit: Pictures of Money , via Flickr