By some measures, the state’s College Bound program — which promises financial help to many low-income students — has been a runaway success.
Since 2007, for example, about 186,000 students have signed up, and the number grows each year. In the past few years, nearly every student who meets the eligibility requirements has signed up. To qualify, students must maintain a C average in high school, apply for federal financial aid and stay out of legal trouble.
But earlier this year, some legislators wondered if the seven-year-old effort should be tweaked to make it more effective.
In the spring, the Legislature created a work group to study College Bound. The group’s report, released this week, suggests some small changes, and also gave College Bound a ringing endorsement. The program will cost $48 million in 2013-15, and an estimated $74 million in 2015-17 if it is fully funded.
State Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, chair of the work group, said via email that the program “has the potential to be one of, if not the, holy grails for the achievement gap by substantially improving high school graduation rates and overall educational attainment for low-income kids.”
The legislative group found that students who signed up for College Bound are more likely to go to college. But it also found that College Bound appears to boost high-school graduation rates, as well — perhaps because students who believe they can continue their education after they graduate are more likely to finish high school in the first place.
But the program could be even better, Frockt said. For example, college advising is much stronger in some school districts than in others, and better advising always led to better results — more students graduating and going on to college.
Some parents and guardians are skeptical of the program, thinking it is too good to be true. That’s why consistent messages from schools, reminding eligible students about the scholarship, are important, he said.
“I think the key for us is to be more intentional in our support efforts,” wrote Frockt. He said the state needs to ensure “that the widest possible groups of students, who are motivated by the potential reward of a college scholarship, get the high touch that they need to be successful.”
The committee recommended that the state Legislature continue to fund College Bound, as well as fully fund the State Need Grant, another financial aid program that works in concert with College Bound. The committee also recommended more money go to support services for College Bound students. And it suggested that a wider range of community nonprofit partners could help counsel and mentor students on finishing high school and enrolling in college.