This blog post was written by Noah An, chair of the Higher Education Caucus.
Back in August, I wrote about the tuition cuts that were greeting in-state college students here in Washington as they returned to campus. In that post, I discussed some of the downsides of the bipartisan tuition cut, including the cutting of the State Need Grant to free up money for an across the board tuition reduction. Now, as we turn our eyes to the coming legislative session, it is time to ask what comes next for higher education. Now that tuition is headed downward, what should the next priority for college students be?
I say it should be the State Need Grant. If you’re unfamiliar, the State Need Grant is Washington State’s version of the Pell Grant: financial aid awarded to college-bound students whose families fall under certain income levels (specifically, less than 70% of the state’s median family income, or $58,500 for a family of four.) About 74,000 students get help paying for college thanks to the State Need Grant. However, due to lack of funding, thousands of students eligible for the State Need Grant get turned away, or get prorated grants for less than the amount promised. During the 2012-2013 school year, more than 32,000 students whom qualified for aid were turned away. This is a huge problem, but there is an easy solution: more funding.
Unfortunately, the anti-tax mindset of senate Republicans, coupled with the recently passed (and hopefully soon-to-be overturned) I-366, and a bevy of other funding obligations the legislature finds themselves in after years of irresponsibility, makes the task of finding funding difficult. Lobbyists for big business and the super-rich will be fighting tooth and nail in Olympia to protect every dollar we give away in corporate tax-breaks. That’s why your voice is so important.
We need to send a message to legislators this year that a tuition cut that primarily benefits wealthy families is not enough. College should be affordable for all, and accessible to people of all backgrounds and income levels. Without providing more funding for the State Need Grant, we won’t expand the opportunity of a college education to more Washingtonians. In the coming months, the Higher Education Caucus will be organizing efforts aimed at empowering student voices to push the legislature in the right direction. For now, I ask that Young Democrats across the state, especially in our college chapters, have this conversation: What should the next steps on higher education be? What should we prioritize, and how do we win, together?