Increasing access to postsecondary education a 2019 legislative priority

There’s no longer any question. Education and training after graduating from high school greatly improves career opportunities. We’ve written about it often.

The Seattle Times reports that Gov. Inslee proposes rebranding and expanding Washington’s State Need Grant program.

For almost 50 years, Washington has written billions of dollars in financial-aid checks to Washington college students through a program with a most uninspiring name: the State Need Grant.

Now Gov. Jay Inslee wants to give the program a big boost in funding, and to rename it with a sunnier moniker.

The budget proposal, which would provide an additional $103 million for the program in 2019-21, would guarantee that by 2021-22, the estimated 93,000 students whose families make 70 percent or less of the state’s median family income will get help paying for college (in 2018-19, that was an adjusted gross income plus nontaxable income of $61,500 for a family of four). And it would rename the program the Washington College Promise Scholarship.

Details and funding sources matter, of course. But it clearly makes sense to make sure those in most need of assistance in pursuing postsecondary education are made a funding priority,

Here’s how the governor describes the proposal in the prepared text of his State of the State message.

We’re also supporting future students who want more education but can’t afford it. The Washington College Promise is our new statewide free college program that guarantees state financial aid to eligible students. We did this because a student’s financial challenges should not stand in the way of the pursuit of their dreams.

In an op-ed in The Columbian, Robert Knight, president of Clark College and Tim Stokes, chair of the Washington Association of Community and Technical Colleges Legislative and Public Information Committee and president of South Puget Sound Community College, write of the importance of postsecondary education.

According to the Washington Roundtable, there will be 740,000 job openings by 2021, more than half of which will require education past high school. At the same time, people need a range of pathways to those jobs, whether it’s an employer certificate, training in a trade, a two-year degree, a four-year degree, or an apprenticeship…

Last year, the Legislature took steps to begin to fully fund the State Need Grant by 2023. We encourage the Legislature to continue this momentum so all students who qualify will get state financial aid.

Community and technical colleges are also seeking investments in three other key areas for students: guided career pathways, training in high-demand careers, and exceptional instruction.

The guided career pathways approach is a nationally recognized way to help students graduate on time and with purpose, saving them money in the process. The idea is to help students choose a course of study earlier and to organize classes in a way that makes it easy for them to take the right classes in the right order. Students get clear road maps to get to their career goals, whether they want to go into a career after graduating or continue to a university.

The op-ed makes a good case for focusing investments on programs that work. We wrote of the Guided Pathways program here.

It’s very early days in the 2019 legislative session. We are encouraged by the initial interest in expanding opportunities for meaningful postsecondary education and training and look forward to seeing how the discussion develops.