Democratic lawmakers announced a proposal this week that would provide students with free tuition at any two-year institution in Washington.
The program, called “Washington Promise,” aims to increase community and technical college enrollment by offering free tuition to those who may not qualify for existing financial aid. It was introduced by three Democratic Senators from Seattle, including Sen. Pramila Jayapal.
“The Washington Promise is different in that it provides certainty for anybody, regardless of their age, to go to community college,” she said. “And it also ensures that we are capturing those folks in the middle class who may not qualify for our really excellent programs.”
At a press conference on Tuesday, lawmakers said they hoped the program would increase enrollment by up to nine percent at two-year colleges.
Any full or part-time student who does not have a degree already would be eligible for the program. Students could also receive a stipend to cover the cost of books and fees depending on their family income.
Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, noted that people would likely still have to work, even with the stipend. The program would cover students for up to four years, or until the completion of 120 credits.
“We view this as a new middle class compact. We want people who are just on the edge to be moving into the middle class — and the way to do that is to give them as much opportunity for as much education attainment as we can give them,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are not rich and not poor who are going to be helped by this.”
The cost for this program was estimated at $100 to $125 million to implement. The unanswered question at this point is how they plan to pay for it. Jayapal said they were waiting to discuss funding.
“We haven’t identified a funding source yet. I think what we need to do is talk about how important this is and then find the money for it,” she said. “When the tuition reduction program was rolled out we didn’t talk right away where the money was coming from.”
No official legislation has been filed as of Jan. 20, but the legislators said Republican Sen. Michael Baumgartner had agreed to co-sponsor the bill, and that they’re working to gain more bipartisan support.
Watch video of the press conference here.