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How does the Washington College Grant affect the need for philanthropy for scholarships?

The passage of the Workforce Education Investment Act and its creation of the Washington College Grant (WCG) is a big step forward in ensuring higher education is affordable and achievable for Washington students, regardless of their family income. But how does it affect the need for donors to support student scholarships?

Key points:

  • The Washington College Grant is a big step forward in ensuring higher education is affordable and achievable for Washington students.
  • The grant covers less than half the full cost of attendance and has income limitations, so many students would still need to take out loans – a barrier for low-income and first-generation students.
  • The UW may be able to expand the reach of its institutional funds and donor-supported scholarships, helping reduce the need for loans and expand students’ educational experiences.
  • Donor-supported scholarships are vital to students’ success and investing in our students’ futures is the best investment to change the world.

Before tackling that question, some background on the WCG: It replaces the State Need Grant, which helped thousands of students but was chronically underfunded, leaving many eligible students without support. At the UW, the Husky Promise filled that gap with the University’s own resources, including scholarships supported by generous donors, but that wasn’t the case at all institutions.

Currently, the WCG fully or partially covers tuition costs at any of the state’s public two- and four-year colleges and universities for resident students whose families earn up to 70 percent of the state’s median family income, $64,000 for a family of four. Starting in the 2020-21 academic year, the program will also partially cover students whose families make between 70 and 100 percent of the median income, up to about $92,000 for a family of four. It also covers partial tuition for private universities and colleges. The grant is funded through an increase in the Business & Occupation Tax, paid by industries that benefit from highly educated workers, which helps solve the lack of funding issue its predecessor faced.

So with the Washington College Grant, do we still need donors’ support for scholarships and other financial aid?

Absolutely.

The WCG is a significant advance in the drive to make higher education more affordable, and by covering tuition it addresses about 40 percent of the full cost of attendance. It’s important to remember, though, that housing, books and other expenses would still be a significant barrier for many low-income students. Because the grant phases out as income rises, middle-income families will usually make too much money to qualify for it and for other need-based financial aid programs, often leaving loans as their only option. Finally, the WCG also only covers undergraduate education, so the need for support for students pursuing professional and graduate education remains.

At the UW, the creation of the Washington College Grant may allow us to extend institutional funds and donor-supported scholarships to more students, helping them pay for expenses beyond tuition and expanding the reach of scholarships and financial aid further up the income ladder. Reducing the need for loans lowers a barrier that first-generation and low-income students are particularly daunted by and sends the message that a UW education is achievable for anyone. Scholarships also enable low- and moderate-income students to take full advantage of all the experiences the UW offers – internships, study abroad, service learning – to prepare them for prosperous lives and successful careers. Finally, as President Cauce herself has said, they’re a vote of confidence — a scholarship tells a student that someone believes in them and their future. For all these reasons, investing in scholarships is vital — and it’s impactful, because investing in students is the best investment we can make in changing the world for the better.

The Washington College Grant is a model for how our nation can make higher education more affordable and achievable. It is a strong companion to the support students receive thanks to philanthropy, but by no means replaces that support.