A necessary step to ensure success for all Washington students

What We Know

Whether a student wants to work in healthcare, manufacturing, aerospace, or in any other industry, a degree or credential beyond high school is becoming less of a luxury and more of a necessity. Two-thirds of Washington jobs in just four years will require some sort of postsecondary degree. There are 25,000 unfilled jobs in Washington because of the job skills gap.

The Washington Student Achievement Council reports that by 2021, our state must boost degree completion by 25 percent in order to address our state’s skills gap.

Post Secondary Education - League of Education VotersThis gap causes employers to import talent and could cause us to lose some of the companies that have built so much of Washington state’s economy. Graduates with a postsecondary education tend to earn significantly more than those with only a high school education and fare better in economic downturns. Postsecondary education also helps the economy at large.

Adding one year of schooling to the average educational attainment of employed workers with at least a high school diploma is associated with an increase in real gross domestic product (GDP) of more than 17 percent per capita.

It also helps workers, who each receive an increase in real wages of nearly 18 percent. In Washington, this means that, on average, for every year of postsecondary educational attainment, an individual’s annual earning potential increases by $8,500.

Yet, the cost of higher education for Washington students increased every year from 2008 to 2012 for both two- and four-year institutions, despite universities lowering their overall operating expenses. In 2008, the state paid, on average, 55 percent of the cost of education at public four-year universities. By 2012, the state only contributed an average of 32 percent of the cost of education.

A Way Forward

As it becomes more and more expensive to obtain a postsecondary education, we believe the state must increase its responsibility to help all students afford to study for a postsecondary degree or credential.

Our state invests in a number of programs to help low- and middle-income students attend postsecondary institutions. The State Need Grant (SNG) is a financial aid program for low-income Washington residents seeking postsecondary education or training. This program is $123 million underfunded each year, which means that 34,000 eligible students are not being served.

The College Bound Scholarship Program provides scholarships for 7th and 8th grade students who are low-income or in foster care. While the first cohort of College Bound Scholars just entered college in fall of 2012, there are already encouraging results. According to survey results, enrollment in the College Bound Scholarship program had a positive impact on students’ decision to graduate from high school, maintain higher GPAs, and take advanced classes in high school. Of students enrolling in higher education, College Bound students are almost 50 percent more likely to attend a four-year college than low-income students statewide. Though the state has fulfilled its financial duty to fund College Bound Scholarships up to this point, the state must sustain that commitment as the number of students enrolled in College Bound increases.

We must build on the success of the College Bound Program. The definition of basic education must include at least two years of postsecondary education. By investing an additional $127 million a year, we can provide full tuition support and a book allowance for each low-income Washington high school graduate with two years of postsecondary education at a two- or four-year institution. By taking this bold step, we will deliver on the promise of our state’s constitution to provide an ample education for each Washington student.

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