Higher Education
1:03 pm
Tue July 8, 2014

Record Number Of King Co. Teens Pledging To Good Grades, Behavior For Free College

An effort to commit south King County teens to a state program that guarantees fully-paid college tuition in exchange for good grades and good behavior through high school has reported its most successful sign-up campaign yet.

Organizers at the Road Map Project, which supports seven King County school districts, say a record 96 percent of eligible eighth-graders signed up for Washington's College Bound Scholarship this year.

The students must maintain a 2.0 GPA and a felony-free criminal record through high school in order to attend any public college in the state, tuition-free. The Road Map Project targets the following seven school districts: Auburn, Kent, Tukwila, Renton, Highline, Federal Way and the southern half of Seattle.

Sharp Rise In Sign-Up Rates In Recent Years

Sign-up rates for the College Bound program have risen sharply in recent years, according to Highline School District superintendent Susan Enfield.

"It's an increased level of awareness and expectation among those of us in south King County, that this is something that our students absolutely need and deserve," Enfield said. 

Only students receiving free or reduced-price lunch are eligible for the College Bound Scholarship. When Washington state debuted the program in the 2008-2009 school year, only half of eligible eighth graders in the Road Map Project region signed up for the program.

Statewide growth in the program — 900 more students than predicted committed to the College Bound initiative last year — prompted state lawmakers to boost funding for the scholarship. The current two-year budget calls for $48 million in funding for the program, up from the initial budget of $36 million. 

Program Modeled On Similar Initiative In Other States

Washington's College Bound Scholarship is modeled on similar initiatives in other states, such as Georgia and Indiana. State-supported offers of college tuition in exchange for good grades and good behavior have existed in those states for decades.

Indiana's scholarship program prompted an increase in college enrollment rates, particularly in two-year institutions. At the state's largest universities, scholarship recipients generally completed their degrees at higher rates than other low-income students, but still didn't graduate at the same rate as the general student body.

'In Some Ways, It's About Incentivizing'

In Washington state, Enfield says the College Bound Scholarship shows low-income students that college attendance is no pipe dream. With a clearer path toward higher education, Road Map Project organizers say the scholarship encourages students to add harder high school courses to their résumés.

"Yes, it's about access and opportunity," said Enfield, "but in some ways, it's about incentivizing [students]."

"Part of that journey is taking more challenging coursework, so they are more competitive when it comes time to apply for college," she added.

Enfield noted the scholarship's impact on immigrant students, whom she says aren't always exposed to the importance of post-secondary education at home.

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