A state scholarship program that promises college financial aid to students in middle school has a powerful effect on the high-school graduation rate.

Share story

An early promise that college financial aid will be available for students when they finish 12th grade continues to have a powerful effect on Washington’s high-school graduation rate.

For the fourth year in a row, the high-school graduation rate for students who signed up for Washington’s College Bound scholarship program was significantly better than that of eligible low-income students who didn’t sign up for the program.

About 75 percent of students who signed up for College Bound graduated from high school in four years. By comparison, only 62 percent of students who were eligible for College Bound — but didn’t sign up — graduated in four years. The overall graduation rate for all Washington students is 78 percent.

Started in 2007, College Bound is, in effect, a promise to low-income students that financial aid for college will be there when they graduate. It promises to cover the cost to attend a state technical school, community college or four-year university, at public-school tuition rates, after other financial aid awards are taken into account.

Students must sign up in middle school, maintain a C average and stay out of legal trouble.

Because the program is still so young — its first scholarship recipients graduated in 2012 and started college that fall — there’s no measure yet of their college graduation rates. The Washington Student Achievement Council, which administers the program, knows that during the 2014-15 school year, 18,600 students who signed up for College Bound in high school were attending college.

Meanwhile, school districts are continuously improving the College Bound signup rates. Recently, 110 of the state’s school districts signed up 92 percent or more of the students who were eligible for the program.

Gene Sharratt, executive director of the Washington Student Achievement Council, said the program breaks down the financial barrier that can prevent students from going to college. “Moreover, the College Bound program creates a career and college going culture within families and communities,” he said by email.

For many families, he said, that’s a game-changer.