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Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

March 11, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Promises kept: You stay in school, we’ll cover college

Screenshot of a graph from  College Bound's new report

Screenshot of a graph from College Bound’s new report

If your family couldn’t afford to pay for college, would you stop trying to get good grades? Would you cease to aim high?

Those questions, and the chilling implications they raise for low-income students, inspired an ambitious promise from Washington legislators in 2007: All seventh and eighth graders from low-income families could have their in-state college tuition covered if they maintained a C average or better, graduated from high school and stayed clear of legal trouble. They’d even get $500 extra for books.

Washington ranked near the bottom for students enrolling in college by age 19, so supporters of the College Bound Scholarship believed it might have game-changing potential. Seven years later, the first results are in, and they are heartening.

  • 63 percent of college sophomores who’d signed up for the College Bound program as middle-schoolers said the scholarship inspired them to graduate from high school, and 83 percent said it motivated them to earn higher GPAs.
  • 85 percent reported that the College Bound Scholarship was critical to enrolling in higher education.
  • 73 percent of those students enrolled directly after high school, compared with 60 percent of low-income students who had never signed up for the program.

Moreover, research released Monday comprising interviews and records from 55 high schools showed that the scholarship program virtually eliminated the gap between low-income and middle-class students in college-attendance rates.

“I have more opportunities because of the money. So many people I know can’t pay for college. This gives me the extra oomph I need to go to school,” said one student, unnamed, in the report.

Since 2007, more than 151,600 middle school kids here have signed up for College Bound scholarships, which bridge the gaps between other financial aid plans and total school tuition. So far, the program has cost about $43.4 million.

Initially, participation was slow. Only 57 percent of eligible students signed up when College Bound first became available. Some students said they attended schools where staff “actively dismissed the notion that low-income students would attend college.”

In other cases, skeptical parents though the program sounded too good to be true, and consequently, many eligible students never applied.

But the numbers have been climbing. Most recent data show 80 percent of eligible students signing up.

“Schools have gotten a lot better and getting students to sign up for it,” said Heather Gingerich, senior program officer at College Spark, which funded the research. “Intuitively, you’d think if a student or family knows about this, it might inspire them. But it had such an impact. I was really surprised at how much of a difference it could make.”

Comments | More in News | Topics: College Bound, higher ed


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