A State-Wide College Promise: Washington State College Bound Scholarship

January 15, 2016

 By Liz Glaser - Graduate Research Assistant

Fast Facts:

Name: College Bound Scholarship

Location: Washington State

Students Served: 33,000

Universal Program: to all low-income students

Program Age: 9 years

Though cities mainly fund and administer early awareness programs, some states have taken on the challenge of incorporating early awareness strategies into every district. Washington State is one of the state-wide initiatives, with the Washington Student Achievement Councils’ College Bound Program. I’d like to highlight some of the notes and lessons I took away from a conversation with Michelle Alejano, the College Success Foundation's Director of Washington College Access Network and College Bound Scholarship Outreach.

In 2007, the Washington state legislature approved funding to distribute as a scholarship to students across the state who fulfill a few simple requirements. Promising to maintain a GPA of at least a 2.0, signing a pledge with their parent or guardian to remain free of felony convictions, and pledging to complete a FAFSA or Washington Application for State Financial Aid in the spring of their senior year are the three steps for seventh and eighth grade students who meet the income requirements. Washington State regulates the income requirements and is determined to make this scholarship accessible to low-income students. Foster youth are also eligible for the scholarship, and are automatically enrolled in the program. In order to maximize the reach of the scholarship, a strong network of partnerships between school districts, non-profits, and the state officials administering the scholarship has developed over the past nine years, which has strengthened as they’ve been able to provide resources to every region and school district in the state.

Beginning in seventh grade allows students to think about the decisions they make in high school that will affect their future, and helps schools to think strategically about how they will work with their students to make long-term plans. Students learn to make the right choices while also receiving support from their school and various College Bound partners to strategically pick classes and learn skills that help them succeed in college. For many first-generation students, whose parents may lack answers or resources that students ask about, this early commitment program offers the resources and support needed to prepare for college and also engage their family members in the process. The program is adaptable and scalable, and Ms. Alejano shared that middle school and high schoosl have “College Bound Champions,” who help to disseminate information to students. The Washington Student Achievement Council's website provides educators with materials to use when discussing college and financial aid with their middle school students. Mainly, the program gets the conversation started, and allows students to prepare for high school; the college applications and FAFSA completion are the later steps in the process.

Ms. Alejano shared that this scholarship has been “such a great galvanizer” of partnerships in the state, and she’s proud to see the strides that students and schools have made. The first cohort graduated from high school in 2012, and since then, College Bound graduation rates have been “at least ten percentage points higher” than low-income students who did not apply for the scholarship. Of students who are income-eligible for the scholarship, enrollment has grown; it is now up to 92% of eligible students applying for the scholarship. The scholarship covers the average cost of tuition at public rates. As this will not completely cover the cost of attendance, students are required to complete the FAFSA, and generally receive Pell Grants and other federal and state aid to pay for most, if not all, of mandatory tuition and fees. 

As the number of students enrolling increases every year – the 2014-2015 school year reached 33,000 – the state must adapt and change to handle the growth, and Ms. Alejano shared that she’s seen the changes first hand. Because the state legislature must renew the funding every biennium, communication between the partners and the legislature is necessary to determine how much should be allotted. The program is relatively recent, so data collection is in the early stages, and future cohorts will have stronger evaluations. The state agency and nonprofit partners, along with schools and districts, have been building relationships over the past near-decade that will hopefully lead to robust reporting and evaluation processes. Ms. Alejano explained that one of the interesting aspects of this program is that it allows non-profits to build capacity across the state, while the state agency regulates the policy and does back-end work, so it’s become a community of partners who share the same goal while utilizing their own strengths. Because schools across the state have diverse students with diverse needs, they can tailor the messaging and curriculum to fit their students; but the school districts have “been invigorated by the changes” taking place and have seen improvements in starting college and financial aid conversations early. College has become a shared goal for many low-income students in Washington State, and this scholarship is working to provide them with a community of support to get them there.


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