Students in Seattle’s tuition-free community-college program will get additional support, including summer classes, expanded financial aid and help transferring to four-year colleges, Mayor Jenny Durkan and school officials said Thursday.
Using $10.7 million in federal American Rescue Plan stimulus money, the city, local schools and colleges will offer the beefed-up support through Seattle Promise, the community-college program that launched in 2018.
The aid is aimed at helping students, especially those of color, who have struggled amid distance learning through the COVID-19 pandemic. “Education is one of the most important pathways to equity, and equitable education has to be a must for the city of Seattle,” Durkan said at a City Hall news conference.
Seattle Promise offers two years of tuition-free community college to Seattle public high-school graduates, funded by taxpayers through the voter-approved Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Levy.
The program, which has been praised by some experts as a national model, has seen a spike in interest during the pandemic.
Last fall, the program set a record with more than 845 enrolled participants. In February, 2,100 Seattle public high-school seniors applied. About 50 Seattle Promise students are expected to graduate from community colleges this month, according to the city.
The newly announced funding will pay for enhancements, including a chance for 2021 Seattle’s public high-school graduates to enroll in tuition-free precollege coursework this summer. The Seattle Promise program will also double to $1,000 per quarter its equity scholarships to cover nontuition expenses, such as books, child care and housing.
The program also will recognize the difficulty students have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic by granting additional time beyond two years to complete their degrees.
In addition, the University of Washington will offer specialized summer courses and career pathway advising to students pursuing transfer degrees, according to Durkan’s office.
At the news conference, Seattle Colleges Chancellor Shouan Pan said the newly announced money “will go a long way to help students who need support to finish what they started, move to the next goal and transfer to get college ready and start strong.”
Ed Taylor, UW vice provost and dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs, said the new support will strengthen collaboration between the city, Seattle schools and colleges.
Taylor likened it to a relay race, with the batons passed smoothly from high schools to community colleges and then to the UW. “Our promise and commitment is to run as hard and as fast as our students are willing to run,” he said.
Of the $10.7 million in federal funding, $4 million is already included in a “Seattle Rescue Plan” proposed by Durkan and City Council members, said mayoral spokesperson Rachel Schulkin in an email. The council is expected to formally debate and vote on the spending this month.
The remaining money will come from federal dollars the city expects to receive next year, Schulkin said.