State bill would help high school students pay for college tuition

A new bill introduced in the Washington State Legislature seeks to eliminate tuition for high school students enrolled in the state’s College in the High School (CHS) and Running Start programs.

Senate Bill 5719 was introduced by Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah. If passed, it would reduce financial barriers for students enrolled in the two dual-credit programs by allowing the state to fund at least some of the costs that were previously paid by students.

Mullet said the financial savings impact would likely be felt in the 5th Legislative District, as students in the Snoqualmie, Riverview, Issaquah and Tahoma school districts use these programs at some of the highest rates in the state.

“The idea is that if you’re a high school student in Washington state, you shouldn’t have to pay to be in school,” Mullet said at a meeting of the K Education Committee. -12. “That’s the principle we try to follow here.”

SB 5719 would change who pays tuition associated with the state’s CHS program, which offers college-level courses and dual-credit opportunities taught by high school teachers at public high schools.

Currently, students enrolled in these courses are responsible for all associated costs, which means paying up to $65 per credit. Under the new bill, the state would pay up to $35 per credit of that cost. This could reduce the cost of five-credit courses for students by $325 to $175.

SB 5719 also asks the state to pay tuition and mandatory course fees for students in the state’s Running Start program, which allows 11th and 12th graders to take classes at community colleges. premises while remaining in high school.

Reducing these prohibitive costs could also go a long way towards achieving the state’s goal of getting 70% of high school graduates across the state to attend post-secondary college or trade school, which will be needed. for the majority of government jobs. within the next five years, according to the governor’s office.

Since 1994, Washington has fallen below the national average for high school students enrolling immediately in postsecondary education upon graduation. In 2018, only 53% of students made it, the fifth worst in the nation, with even lower rates for students of color. In fall 2020, post-secondary enrollment fell 13%, nearly double the national average.

According to the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, enrollment in these dual credit courses is linked to higher high school graduation rates, college enrollment, and graduation.

Speaking at a committee meeting, Mullet said he tried to pass a similar bill in 2020 but ran into financial difficulties that could have jeopardized the Washington College Promise program, which in 2021 offered free or nearly free college for nearly 90,000 low-income students.

Cost is one of the reasons why the new bill does not cover the full $65 tuition for the CHS course. Mullet said he found that many districts had negotiated costs for CHS courses as low as $35 per credit. The total cost is also one of the reasons why the new bill does not cover textbook costs for beginning students.

Despite these cuts, the bill remains expensive, Mullet said. He said that should be a priority for the Ways and Means Committee if it was something the Legislature wanted to fund this session.

A financial analysis of the bill has yet to be done, but Mullet said they hope it could save the state money, by ensuring more students get college credit during their high school education at a lower cost than students using the Washington College Promise program. .

Those who spoke during testimony on the bill were generally supportive, but initially worried about the impact it might have on the funding community colleges receive.

“The intent of this bill is that the fees that community colleges receive from students in their running start programs would now be paid for by the state,” Mullet said. “I think it would have a significant impact for families.”

Juliet Schindler, director of government relations and advocacy at the Issaquah-based College Success Foundation, said while she supports the bill’s efforts and thinks it’s a step in the right direction, it’s not right. far enough.

“It actually doesn’t help our lower-income students get into college in high school,” she said. “It’s still prohibitively expensive in some cases,”

The SB 5719 is likely to undergo some modifications before its possible passage. The bill is currently sitting in the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

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