Paying for college is an obstacle faced by every student. Whether you qualify for financial aid or not, making ends meet during your degree program can seem impossible. In Seattle, lawmakers seek to remove this barrier for local public school students with a new program called the Seattle Promise, which promises to make college attendance easier and more possible than ever. The Seattle Promise Scholarship Program not only makes college easier to pay for: it makes free college in Seattle a reality for many students.
Seattle Promise and the 13th Year Program
The Seattle Promise Program is a new, government-funded scholarship program, modeled after and incorporating Seattle’s existing 13th Year Program. The 13th Year Program was instated in 2008 to help more Seattle high school students enroll in and graduate from city colleges. The program focused on increasing access to higher education for students of color, low-income students, and first-generation college students.
The 13th Year Scholarship program guarantees qualified students free college in Seattle for their first year of school, as well as a host of services designed to help them succeed. Since its beginning 2008, the 13th Year Program has been funded by private donations, but the recent and continuing expansion of this program, now named the Seattle Promise Program, will be funded by the city’s new tax on soda.
Passing the Tipping Point
The innovative 13th Year Program was founded on research from the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. This research demonstrated a clear “tipping point”—the point at which a student is likely to earn a living wage and/or continue pursuing their higher education. The tipping point was discovered to be high school graduation plus one year of college.
Before this critical point in a student’s educational timeline, he or she may not find the resources or motivation to continue higher education, and he or she might not be able to get a job that pays a living wage. The 13th Year Program sought to get students past this tipping point and improve their chances of graduating from college and/or earning a living wage.
The first class to benefit from the 13th Year Program was the Cleveland High School Class of 2008. From there, the program expanded to Chief Sealth International High School (2011), followed by Rainer Beach High School (2014). The class of 2011 at these schools also benefitted from a new program called the Readiness Academy. This extra level of assistance was added to the program to further increase students’ success in transitioning from high school to college.
Readiness Academy offers 13th Year Scholars a host of services to help them through the transition to college from high school, including testing workshops, campus field trips, “College 101” courses, help with the FAFSA and college application, and more. The Readiness Academy also includes the program’s week-long Bridge Program offered in the summer prior to each fall start date, which is a specially-tailored college orientation each 13th Year Scholar receives.
Seattle Promise Program Expansion 2018
Since its inception in 2008, the 13th Year Program has applied to three local high schools: Cleveland, Rainer Beach, and Chief Sealth International, and it has been funded primarily by private donations. Graduates from these schools have been eligible for one year of free tuition at just one Seattle college: South Seattle College.
But the relatively new scholarship program was always expected to increase in scope. Former Mayor Ed Murray began the process of expansion by setting in motion a plan to allocate city operational funds to the scholarship program.
In 2018, new Mayor of Seattle Jenny Durkan unveiled her plans for a new Seattle Promise Program, which would incorporate but significantly expand upon the city’s existing 13th Year Program. Within her first 24 hours in office, Durkan pledged to make two years of community college free for all Seattle Public School graduates (Seattle Times). This would constitute a major expansion of the program’s current offering of one year (45 credits) free college in Seattle for just a portion of Seattle’s high school graduates.
In November of 2017, Durkan signed an executive order giving city staffers until March 8, 2018 to develop a framework for the program (including how the program would be funded). Durkan aims to fulfill the promise of free college in Seattle by the year 2020.
Seattle Promise Program Rollout
The new Seattle Promise is beginning to unroll, beginning with additional free college in Seattle for those students who already qualify for the 13th Year Program. These students—graduating seniors from Cleveland, Rainer Beach and Chief Sealth International high schools—who are enrolled in the 13th Year Promise this year are now eligible for a 14th year of free education.
Who is Eligible for Free College in Seattle?
With the new Seattle Promise Program, all Seattle Public School graduates are eligible for the scholarship, regardless of academic background or financial need. While 13th Year was previously available to Cleveland, Rainer Beach, and Chief Sealth high schools, Seattle Promise will expand to include Garfield, Ingraham, and West Seattle high schools once fully implemented.
The program currently applies to both documented and undocumented students who are:
- Current 13th Year Scholars at South Seattle College;
- Seniors at Cleveland, Rainer Beach, Chief Sealth, and West Seattle High Schools (South Seattle College);
- Seniors at Garfield High School (Seattle Central College); and
- Seniors at Ingraham High School (North Seattle College).
Free College in Seattle by 2020
Mayor Durkan’s goal is for the program to provide two full years of college at Seattle city colleges for all public school graduates by the year 2020. While this expansion will require a major source of funding, much of that will come from a new tax proposed by Ed Murray while he was in office. The new tax on sweetened beverages has allowed the city to earmark $1.38 million dollars for the program, according to the Seattle Times. For public school students in Seattle, this new program could mean brighter futures and fewer barriers to entry especially considering the expected and continued rising costs of college.