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).
Washington College Grant. The State Need Grant was modified in 2019 and renamed the Washington College Grant (WCG). The WCG is the state's largest financial aid program and provides awards to low-income students to pursue postsecondary education. The WCG is an entitlement program with guaranteed awards for those students who qualify. The WCG award amount varies based on the institution the student attends and the student's family income.
Washington Fund for Innovation and Quality. The Washington Fund for Innovation and Quality in Higher Education Program is administered by WSAC and College Board to award incentive grants to public institutions of higher education, or consortia of institutions to encourage cooperative programs designed to address specific system problems. Strong priority will be given to proposals that involve more than one sector of education and to proposals that show substantive institutional commitment.
Statewide Marketing Campaign. Subject to appropriation, WSAC must conduct a statewide marketing campaign to increase awareness of the WCG program. 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. SBCTC must select colleges to participate who are located within educational service districts in the bottom two for FAFSA completion rates over the prior three years. The colleges selected to participate in the pilot must employ outreach specialists to work with high schools in the educational service district with the purpose of increasing FAFSA and WASFA filing rates. SBCTC must report to the Legislature the outcomes of the pilot program beginning December 1, 2023.
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 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 State Library must report the outcomes of the pilot program beginning December 1, 2023.
Washington College Grant Changes. The WCG is modified to allow a student to either demonstrate financial need by meeting the income requirements or by WSAC confirming the student's participation in one of the following state public assistance programs:
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. DSHS is permitted to release individual-level data of state-funded public assistance programs to WSAC for this purpose, unless prohibited by federal law.
WSAC is required to collaborate with 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.
WSAC must 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. 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.
Washington Career and College Pathways Innovation Challenge Program. The purpose of the Washington Career and College Pathways Program (program) is to meet statewide attainment goals through the use of local and regional partnerships.
The program must be administered using a competitive grant process and must consider, among other things initiatives that:
WSAC must consult with representatives of the public two- and four-year institutions, the state's ethnic commissions, the Governor's Office of Indian Affairs, the LGBTQ commission and the women's commission, in the design and administration of the grant program.
WSAC must hire staff to support grant oversight and provide technical assistance to grantees. WSAC must provide a report to the Legislature annually regarding the grants that were awarded and progress of each project.
The Washington Career and College Pathways Innovation Account replaces the Washington Fund for Innovation and Quality and is established in the custody of the state treasurer. WSAC may accept public and private gifts, grants, and endowments for the program.
PRO: Washington has a goal of 70 percent of high school graduates earning a postsecondary credential. The problem is not enough people are taking advantage of the states robust aid and going to college. This campaign to increase financial aid awareness is necessary. Efforts like these have proven successful elsewhere. What research shows us is that the paperwork hurdle of aid applications causes many students to stumble. Offering help in filling out that paperwork lessens that barrier. Allowing the state to use paperwork filed for other state assistance programs removes that barrier. Research from this in other states shows it can significantly increase enrollment. We support the efforts to increase awareness of the WCG program and efforts to increase college enrollment. We believe this bill will help increase college enrollment. With undergraduate enrollment dropping 7 percent, and thousands of students not filling out the FAFSA, we aren't going to make significant progress to the states attainment goal without changes. Incorporating WSACs grant program request in this legislation will help leverage local partners. Part of why I stayed in state for college was because of the amazing opportunities for financial aid. But, many of my peers are unaware of them. I didn't know about the WCG until I was awarded it. We have some successful FAFSA outreach programs in libraries throughout the state and we look forward to partnering with community organizations to do this work elsewhere. Having someone there to help walk a family through the financial aid paperwork will be helpful.
The committee recommended a different version of the bill than what was heard. PRO: Having help with the FAFSA would have helped me more easily access financial aid. Washington under normal circumstances ranks very low in FAFSA completion and it's getting worse. That has big financial impacts for students. This bill is important in helping get resources to students. Many of the plans in this bill came from youth in Washington who are trying to access these services. This will help more students access funding to finish college.