Free eligibility website connects current and potential students with services, employment and training programs available in Washington state.
Thinking of going to community college, but not sure how you could afford it? After all, half of American community college students struggle to find stable housing and two-thirds can’t afford food, according to a 2017 study conducted by the Association of Community College Trustees.
Start Next Quarter, a user-friendly online tool, aims to make it easier for Washington residents to learn whether they qualify for free or reduced tuition, books, fees and employment training at participating community colleges.
Since its origination at Green River Community College in Auburn, the program has expanded to include a pilot project through the Workforce Development Councils and Seattle Community Colleges. Its goal is to provide a path into education with an easy-to-follow, three-step system — and it only takes a few minutes to learn whether you qualify for funding.
1. Go to startnextquarter.org to complete a free online survey. The information you’ll provide includes your age, household income, state residency and whether you’re currently receiving any other form of financial assistance like unemployment or food benefits. You’ll also choose which participating school you’d like to attend and which degree program interests you. Choices include high school and GED diploma courses, a two-year associates or applied baccalaureates degree.
2. Once you’ve completed the survey, Start Next Quarter’s system immediately provides a list of aid you qualify for within the following programs:
• WorkFirst: Designed to help recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), WorkFirst aims to provide stable employment and training opportunities.
• Worker Retraining: Veterans, the unemployed, underemployed and formerly self-employed may benefit under this program.
• Opportunity Grants: Low-income adults prepare for in-demand, high-wage careers with this program.
• Basic Food and Employment Training: Basic Food (SNAP) recipients may qualify for education funds under this program, which serves low-income individuals who are unemployed or employed and seeking independence from public assistance.
3. Attend an in-person workshop where trained counselors will confirm your funding eligibility and help you choose the right course of study based on your goals. With a plan in place, the final step is applying to and enrolling in a degree program.
The diversity of available aid is why Start Next Quarter is so important, says Anna Baldwin, director of workforce projects at Seattle Colleges.
“I love Start Next Quarter because it shields the student from having to read a bunch of jargon and policy text to figure out where they fit,” she says. “It gives them a friendly user interface where they answer yes-or-no questions.”
That’s important, Baldwin says, “because we have all of these state funding opportunities for students to go back to school, but they can be so complex.”
Each of the programs has different eligibility criteria, so it can be really overwhelming for prospective students to try and navigate each of them on their own, she says.
The program has recently partnered with the Department of Social and Health Services’ Washington Connections, the state’s eligibility site, for a variety of services like child care, cash and food. Many of the questions for state assistance overlap, and with permission, Start Next Quarter is able to inform applicants if they qualify for education funding through Washington Connections as well, Baldwin says.
“It’s a great synergy and efficiency between the two. We’ve had over 50,000 people transfer their data,” Baldwin says. “I think people who want to learn and have not had very good experiences with education systems in the past will like Start Next Quarter. It makes the entire process more palatable.”