Washington state lawmakers passed House Bill 2158, funding the Washington College Grant, which will eliminate or greatly reduce college tuition for low- to middle-income students starting fall 2020.
The grant will pay for all or some tuition costs at over 65 Washington state colleges including some private universities. Remaining private and for-profit colleges will not accept the Washington College Grant for funding.
The Washington College Grant will have a tiered system based on annual household income. Families earning $50,000 or less annually will qualify for free tuition. Partial tuition support will be available to families making between $50,000 and $90,000 annually.
Washington students hoping to take advantage of the Washington College Grant must live in-state for at least one year before being considered eligible for funds.
The Washington College Grant is designed to assist young students graduating from high school and older residents returning to school in order to get better jobs.
HB 2158 is regarded as the most generous and forward-thinking reduced-cost tuition program in the country by the president of Microsoft and research professors at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.
Washington is not the first state to offer a program designed to reduce or eliminate college tuition costs.
Tennessee offers free community college education to every high school graduate but students must be enrolled by fall quarter after graduation and attend college full-time in order to qualify for free tuition.
New York also offers free tuition to residents with the Excelsior Scholarship. Stipulations require college graduates receiving the scholarship funds commit to live and work in New York for at least the amount of time they participated in the program.
If students move out of New York before the stipulations are met, they must pay back tuition at a prorated amount.
The Washington College Grant is the only tuition program that allows students to attend school part-time and still qualify for free or reduced costs.
HB 2158 was opposed by the Washington Retail Association and the Independent Business Association of Washington. They argued the increased taxes would make it difficult to stay in business because property taxes have already hindered small businesses in Washington.
Most of the grant funding will come from taxing larger technology companies in Washington, like Amazon and Microsoft, as they require the highest number of highly educated workers. Smaller businesses will contribute lower amounts through taxes.
Microsoft made a statement that the company will be donating more than the required tax amount to help fund the Washington College Grant but did not release details on how much more.
Students who qualify for the grant will still be eligible for the Pell grant and scholarships to assist with the cost of housing, textbooks and food.
Student eligibility for the Washington College Grant is automatically decided upon completion of the FAFSA application. Grant money only applies to the cost of tuition.
To see a list of participating colleges or award amounts based on income, visit www.readysetgrad.wa.gov.
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