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Free College Plan Out in Congress, But WA Students Still Have Options

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Monday, October 25, 2021   

SEATTLE - Congress has abandoned plans for two free years of community college in its expansive spending bill. But low and middle income families in Washington state still have an option to make college more affordable.

Lawmakers approved the Washington College Grant in 2019. Michael Meotti, executive director of the Washington Student Achievement Council, called it one of the most generous financial aid programs in the country.

"If you are eligible for the full award amount," said Meotti, "it happens to equal tuition and fees at any public college or university - whether it's the University of Washington, Washington State University or a community college."

Students from a family of four that makes $56,000 a year or less are eligible for the full award. Partial awards are available for families making up to $102,000 a year.

The grant is available to undocumented students as well.

Meotti noteed the grant doesn't just cover public university and community college tuitions. It also covers participating technical colleges, apprenticeships and short-term higher education programs.

"All of those programs are covered under our Washington College Grant," said Meotti, "and it doesn't make any difference whether you just got out of high school or that you're 40 or 50 or 30 or anything. You're going to be covered and we can make those pathways affordable for your to advance in your personal life goals."

Members of Congress from Washington State, including Sen. Patty Murray - D-Wash. - and Rep. Pramila Jayapal - D-Seattle - have pushed for even more ambitious plans than the measure included in President Joe Biden's budget plan.

But Meotti said even Biden's proposal to make the first two years of community college free would most likely allow the state to cover other costs for students, such as child-care, transportation and housing.

"We would be able to be an extremely generous environment for those families to know they're not only getting free college," said Meotti, "they're getting support for these other life expenses while they're completing a degree."

Washington state students who graduated in 2019 owed an average of about $24,600 in debt, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.




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