The Seattle metro area is one of the decade’s greatest economic success stories. Droves of educated workers from around the country are moving here. Students from around the globe flock to our colleges for access to companies like Amazon and Microsoft.
But what about the students born and raised in our own communities? Are they prepared for a future here?
The answer, unfortunately, is often no.
According to recent data, only 29 percent of students in the Road Map Project region earn a college degree by their mid-twenties. The Project’s goal is for 70 percent of South Seattle and South King County students to earn a college degree or career credential by 2030.
We are far from that goal, and the rates are even more troubling for students of color. It’s clear our region can do more for students. One solution could be “college promise” programs.
Jessie Nguyen, a first-generation college student, had begun the college application process by herself as a Garfield High School student. “The hardest part for me was the FAFSA [Free Application for Federal Student Financial Aid]. I had to navigate the website on my own and I had to go through my parents’ tax return forms on my own,” she said.
But then Jessie learned about Seattle Promise, a program that makes college accessible to more Seattle students through college advising support and tuition assistance. The process became manageable because it was designed for students like her.
“We had to do the FAFSA and I remembered it being so incredibly easy,” Jessie said. A Seattle Central College student success coach “held meetings at our school and sat with us in the computer labs to help us fill out the applications with him. He made things a lot easier.”
Jessie has now started her journey at Seattle Central College, studying to become a UX designer, which will prepare her for a career in a high-demand field. And with continued advising supports from Seattle Promise, she will be well on her way to earning a degree.
Nearly half of South King County students who enroll in postsecondary education are like Jessie and do so at a local community and technical college, finds a new Road Map Project report on community and technical colleges. This is notable considering of the 127,000 K-12 students who call South King County home, many belong to groups underrepresented on college campuses: students of color (71 percent), low-income students (55 percent), and first-generation college students.
The report also identifies patterns for high school to community and technical college enrollment for each of South King County’s school districts. For example, 78 percent of Federal Way Public Schools students who enrolled in a local community and technical college, did so at Highline College. These patterns make the case for close collaboration between school districts and colleges.
We, along with our colleagues from K-12 and other community and technical colleges know it is not enough to simply improve access to college. A meaningful “promise” must set college completion as its ultimate goal. We’re stepping up our efforts, but we also need your support.
We need your help to expand the Seattle Promise program. By voting yes on Nov. 6 on Seattle’s Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Levy, you’ll ensure more students like Jessie get the supports they need to attend and succeed at Seattle Colleges.
Our promise to young people cannot stop at Seattle city limits. King County residents can call their council members and urge them to prioritize investment from the Puget Sound Taxpayer’s Accountability Account (PSTAA) in a King County Promise program, which we are now designing with our South King County college and K-12 partners.
Our region is home to tens of thousands of students like Jessie: bright, determined, and capable. But they need our help to realize their potential. Our children deserve the opportunity to thrive here, regardless of their family’s income or background. Together, we can make sure they get that opportunity.
Dr. Sheila Edwards Lange is president of Seattle Central College and Dr. Kevin McCarthy is president of Renton Technical College. Both are members of the Puget Sound Coalition for College and Career Readiness, which is advocating for a King County College Promise program. The coalition also helped in the development of To and Through: Community and Technical Colleges in South Seattle and South King County.