A new bill would give students who never finished college, but have 15 credits left to complete a degree, a scholarship to go back to school and finish.

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A bill in the state Legislature would give people who didn’t graduate from college — but are only a quarter’s worth of classes away from doing so — the chance to go back and get their degree for free.

The Free to Finish College bill passed out of the House Higher Education Committee last week with support from both parties.

Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge, one of the bill’s sponsors, described it as a “pretty simple” deal: The state would pick up tuition for students who are 15 credits (one quarter) shy of a four-year or community college degree, and who have not been enrolled in college for at least three years. Students must be Washington residents, and they must be pursuing their first college degree — they’re ineligible if they’ve already earned another college degree or certificate.

Hansen estimates there are about 25,000 students in the state who fall into the one-quarter-short category. He’s seeking an allocation of $10 million, which would cover a quarter’s worth of tuition for about 5,000 students. The scholarships would be offered on a first-come, first-serve basis.

If the money is not all used,  it would revert back into the biennial budget.

If the bill passes, Hansen said he thinks Washington would be the first state to offer such a scholarship to its students.  There’s a Connecticut initiative that does something similar, but it’s complex and requires the student to pay for half the cost.

In recent years, many colleges have added online courses, making it possible for students who want to finish their degrees to do the work from home, Hansen said.

Central Washington University President James Gaudino was among those who testified in favor of the bill last week. He said students who drop out before graduating often do so because they run out of money to finish. “With just a little state support, we can change the lives of thousands of students and help them finish a college degree,” he said in a statement.

According to Washington Student Achievement Council research, 70 percent of those with some college, but no degree, earn less than the living wage necessary to support a family of four in Washington. And nationally, roughly 40 percent of those who attended college but leave with no degree are still paying off student loans.