Financial Aid Applications.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the federal form that current and prospective students fill out to determine their eligibility for federal and state financial aid for attending postsecondary education institutions. The FAFSA asks a variety of questions based on federal income tax returns to determine a student's financial need, taking into account the student's dependency status, income, assets, family size, and other factors. Students without legal immigrant status are ineligible for federal financial aid. The Washington Application for State Financial Aid (WASFA) is an alternative form for students who cannot file a FAFSA, but may still be eligible for state financial aid. The WASFA is administered by the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC).
The Washington College Grant.
The Washington College Grant (WCG) is the state's largest financial aid program and provides grants to low-income students to pursue postsecondary education. The WCG is an entitlement program administered by the WSAC with guaranteed grants for students who qualify. To qualify, a student must:
The WCG award amounts vary based on the institution the student attends and the student's family income. Financial need is based on the state's median family income (MFI) and the student's family size. The WCG awards are prorated based on the student's family income level as follows:
|Median Family Income||Grant Award Amount|
|0-55 percent of state MFI||Maximum Award|
|56-60 percent of state MFI||70 percent of maximum award|
|61-65 percent of state MFI||60 percent of maximum award|
|66-70 percent of state MFI||50 percent of maximum award|
|71-75 percent of state MFI||24.5 percent of maximum award|
|76-100 percent of state MFI||10 percent of maximum award|
The maximum WCG award covers tuition and services and activities fees for 15 quarter credits or the equivalent at the state's public institutions. For example, the 2021-22 maximum award for students attending the University of Washington is $11,339. For students attending private institutions, the maximum award amounts vary based on statutorily set amounts. For example, the maximum award for a student attending a private nonprofit institution is $9,739. A student is eligible to receive the WCG for five years or up to 125 percent of the published length of the student's program.
Statewide Marketing Campaign.
Subject to appropriation, the WSAC must conduct a statewide marketing campaign to increase awareness of the WCG program. The WSAC must issue a request for proposal to hire a marketing firm to produce high-quality advertisements to promote the WCG program. Advertisements should be marketed towards potential postsecondary education students and their parents with the goal of increasing awareness of the WCG to further the state's educational attainment goals. Advertisements may include television commercials, billboards, advertisements on public transit, paid Internet search advertisements, and social media marketing.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid and Washington Application For State Financial Aid Outreach and Completion Initiative.
Subject to appropriation, the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) must administer a FAFSA and WASFA Outreach and Completion Initiative Pilot Program. The SBCTC must select community or technical colleges to participate in the pilot program. The colleges selected must each be located within educational service districts that are in the bottom two for FAFSA completion rates when combining their respective school districts' FAFSA completion rates over the past three academic years prior to the effective date of the act. The colleges selected to participate must employ outreach specialists to work directly with high school students and their families for the purpose of increasing FAFSA and WASFA completion rates. It is the Legislature's intent that the outreach specialists be employed at a ratio of one outreach specialist to 600 high school seniors within the corresponding educational service district. The outreach specialists must use FAFSA and WASFA data maintained by the WSAC to conduct targeted outreach and completion assistance. The outreach specialists must also provide information on how to access private scholarships. The outreach specialists must conduct outreach as appropriate, including virtual or in-person presentations with students and families, announcements on school intercoms and social media channels, outreach to recent high school graduates as peer messengers, and events at school college or career fairs. The SBCTC must report annually to the Legislature beginning December 1, 2023, on the FAFSA and WASFA Outreach and Completion Initiative Pilot Program. The report must include details on how the colleges used the funding and how the initiatives worked to increase FAFSA and WASFA completion rates, including FAFSA and WASFA completion data and specific details about the number of students assisted.
State Library Outreach Pilot Program.
Subject to appropriation, the State Library must administer a pilot program to distribute grants to local, public libraries to conduct community outreach to increase FAFSA and WASFA completion rates. The State Library must administer grants to public libraries located within educational service districts that are in the bottom two for FAFSA completion rates when combining their respective school districts' FAFSA completion rates over the past three academic years prior to the effective date of the act. The public libraries are required to partner with community-based organizations that are embedded in their communities, have a strong foundation of trust among the community, and are committed to working directly with individuals to assist with one-on-one FAFSA and WASFA completion and provide information on how to access private scholarships. The State Library must report annually to the Legislature beginning December 1, 2023, on the progress of the pilot project to boost FAFSA and WASFA completion rates, including data on the specific number of students assisted.
Washington College Grant Changes.
The WCG is modified to allow a student to either demonstrate financial need by meeting the income requirements or by the WSAC confirming the student's participation in one of the following state public assistance programs: Aged, Blind, or Disabled Assistance Benefits; Essential Needs and Housing Support; Pregnant Women Assistance; or Refugee Cash Assistance. The WSAC is required to enter into a data-sharing agreement with the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to facilitate the sharing of individual-level data for the purpose of confirming WCG income eligibility through a public assistance program. The DSHS is permitted to release individual-level data of state-funded public assistance programs to the WSAC for this purpose, unless prohibited by federal law.
In addition, the WSAC is required to collaborate with the DSHS to facilitate individual-level outreach to individuals receiving benefits under the public assistance programs listed above, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the State Family Assistance Program, and the Basic Food Program in order to inform the individuals of their WCG eligibility.
The WSAC must also issue certificates for students in grades 10, 11, and 12 whose families are receiving benefits through one of the public assistance programs. This certificate validates the student's financial need eligibility for the WCG for one year after high school graduation upon enrollment in a higher education institution, provided the student meets the other WCG eligibility requirements. The WSAC must maintain records of which high school students received certificates as the student does not need to present the certificate to receive the WCG.
(In support) Washington is always near the bottom of the 50 states for FAFSA completion rates, and the state is usually not near the bottom for anything except for major league baseball. A lot of time was spent talking to stakeholders about why FAFSA rates are so low and reaching out to individuals with experience in outreach for things like the United States Census. These strategies resemble a campaign strategy. Focus groups set up by the community and technical colleges and the WSAC revealed that only 50 percent of the people asked knew that the WCG was available and that it doesn't need to be repaid. Marketing for the WCG is extremely important because people do not know about it. A message was tested with those focus groups about increasing awareness regarding the WCG. First, the state will spend money on ads: digital ads and ads on television, Instagram, Tik Tok, and Facebook for the parents. The second strategy is a field operation based first in the high schools. The FAFSA completion data across different high school districts wavers up and down, except for one: the Seattle School District. The Seattle Promise has established a prudent methodology. The Seattle Promise has three components: it guarantees free tuition, provides equity scholarships, and most importantly for this discussion, provides student supports in the high schools. Seattle Promise uses outreach specialists embedded in the high schools to work with students at a ratio of one to 600. This proposal aims to do that statewide. The third part is the library-based strategy for people who are not in high school. Libraries have a unique position of being able to coordinate with other organizations and several are already doing FAFSA work. Individual trust in government is at an all-time low, but there are some government institutions that people do trust, like public libraries. Libraries need to coordinate with other organizations because there is certain assistance libraries cannot provide, such as around sensitive financial information. The fourth piece is pre-qualification for the WCG. If an individual gets some public assistance through a certain program, then that person would automatically qualify for the WCG. A similar program in Michigan worked incredibly well, and it actually leads to people filling out the FAFSA to get other grants. This approach helps deliver a message that says, "You are eligible for this aid, fill out this paperwork," versus "Fill out this paperwork to find out if you qualify for this aid."
This is a student-led proposal. Higher education is an equalizer, but filling out the FAFSA and paying for college is not an equal process. The WCG is beneficial because students focus on education rather than paying off student loans. Nationally, students have an average of $39,350 in student loan debt. State financial aid can keep students in state. High school students who complete the FAFSA or WASFA are more likely to enroll in postsecondary education. The FAFSA is an intimidating, daunting form that is difficult to complete. Research and randomized trials have proven that the form is a barrier. Many students do not think they will qualify for aid so they don't fill it out. Having an easy-to-understand application is crucial to getting people into higher education, and this bill provides support to help. Eliminating the barrier between can and cannot obtain higher education has to be a priority if the state ever wants to prepare the next generation for economic success.
(In support) The state's FAFSA rate is horrifying as Washington ranks near the bottom every year. The idea is to increase rates by using strategies similar to running a campaign. The state's approach to FAFSA has been to leave it up to fate and that has not been working. Washington students leave over $50 million dollars in unclaimed federal aid on the table by not filling out the FAFSA. This year, only 29 percent of students have filled out the FAFSA so far, which is 10 percent below last year. First generation students often do not know the FAFSA or the WCG exist. Enrollment is also in decline, especially over the last two years. Washington businesses are finding it difficult to hire a skilled and trained workforce, which is necessary for the economy to grow. The state needs an aggressive, comprehensive, and extensive outreach program to get students back in college.
The FAFSA allows students to achieve upward mobility and surpass the education level of their parents. It is a wonderful opportunity to get grants to afford school. A high school counselor talked about the FAFSA for 10 minutes, and the message was that this is a complicated form that parents and the student have to fill out for an unknown amount of aid. Every high school should have access to a qualified professional to assist and educate them about how to fill out the FAFSA. This will empower marginalized students and immigrants by informing them about how much financial aid they can get. This gives hope that postsecondary education is possible and achievable.
The high school program is modeled around a successful program in Seattle, and other modes of outreach to target a broad array of citizens, including non–high school populations. When students receive grants, they can prioritize learning rather than paying off student loans. Approximately 43 million students are in debt an average of $39,351 each. Forty percent of black graduates have student loan debt while 20.2 percent of white graduates have debt. It is important that benefits reflect the state's demographics.