Mayor Creates Program for Free College

New Mayor Jenny Durkan addresses the participants of the MLK rally at Garfield High School. Durkan discussed her new plan during her speech.

Mayor Jenny Durkan started her first day in office by signing an executive order creating the Seattle Promise College Tuition Program. The program would allow all Seattle public high school graduates to go to community college for free, for two years.

“There is no better investment we can make as a city than in the education of our young people,” Durkan said, during a press meeting on Nov. 29.

Under the new program, students would be able to attend North Seattle College, Seattle Central College, or South Seattle College, as well as six vocational and specialty institutes.

Durkan intends the program to help provide an education to students of color and those with low income.

“The City of Seattle must play an active role in reducing and removing financial barriers that keep our high school graduates from going to college or getting the technical training,” Durkan said. “Creating the Seattle Promise will build economic opportunity through education and help to make progress to reduce the opportunity gap for students of color.”

Senior Vera Cohen, who plans to attend either North Seattle College or Shoreline College, agrees with the program’s aim to help more students go to community college, but points out the issues they face.

“There is a stigma,” Cohen said. “Like, ‘Oh, you’re dumb’ or something for going to community college, but I notice a lot of minorities go there. I think a lot of people go there because they can’t afford to go to college immediately, and that happens to be a lot more minorities, which I think is really messed up. It has a lot to do with systemic racism. And I think paying for people [to go] to community college in turn will help more minorities, whereas if we started with universities, I think it would benefit white people, widening that gap.”

The program was designed off of the 13th Year Promise Scholarship, which pays for some graduates of Cleveland, Chief Sealth International, and Rainier Beach high schools to attend South Seattle College for free for one year. The Seattle Promise Program will start in the fall of 2018 by expanding the 13th Year Promise Scholarship to two years.

The new program has no income or GPA restrictions, and undocumented students can apply.

For Cohen, going to community college is a personal decision.

“People see people that choose to go to community college as people not being motivated to go to university, or not having good grades. That’s one of things that I was questioning when I was going to go there, because I felt that I wouldn’t be meeting people’s expectations, or that I would be judged for it,” Cohen said.

Durkan has asked that ideas for the program’s funding be presented by March 8, 2018. As of yet, there is not a solid date for the expansion of the program to all Seattle high schools.

According to the website, “an interdepartmental team in partnership with Seattle Public Schools (SPS) and Seattle Colleges will develop a comprehensive framework and timeline for implementation for all Seattle Public School graduates.”

Hopefully for many, free community college will lessen the prospective financial burden in the pursuit of education.

“I need to start thinking ahead, in terms of not having student debt to pay off,” Cohen said. “College is so ridiculously expensive.”

The average debt of graduates from the University of Washington – Seattle in 2016 was $21,900, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. In comparison, South Seattle College graduates leave with an average of $9,750 in debt.

“It’s just kind of a smart investment,” Cohen said.


Photo By: Emma Flecher-Frazer


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